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AI

Whistleblower says DeepMind waited months to fire a researcher accused of sexual misconduct

A former employee at DeepMind, the Google-owned AI research lab, accuses the company’s human resources department of intentionally delaying its response to her complaints about sexual misconduct in the workplace, as first reported by the Financial Times.

In an open letter posted to Medium, the former employee (who goes by Julia to protect her identity) says she was sexually harassed by a senior researcher for months while working at the London-based company. During this time, she was allegedly subject to numerous sexual propositions and inappropriate messages, including some that described past sexual violence against women and threats of self-harm.

Julia got in contact with the company’s HR and grievance team as early as August 2019 to outline her interactions with the senior researcher, and she raised a formal complaint in December 2019. The researcher in question reportedly wasn’t dismissed until October 2020. He faced no suspension and was even given a company award while HR was processing Julia’s complaint, leaving Julia fearing for her — and her other female colleagues’ — safety.

Although the Financial Times’ report says her case wasn’t fully resolved until seven months after she first reported the misconduct, Julia told The Verge that the whole process actually took 10 months. She claims DeepMind’s communications team used “semantics” to “push back” on the Financial Times’ story and shorten the amount of time it took to address her case.

“It was in fact 10 months, they [DeepMind] argued it was ‘only’ 7 because that’s when the appeal finished, though the disciplinary hearing took another 2 months, and involved more rounds of interviews for me,” Julia said. “My point stands: whether it was 10 months or 7, it was far, far too long.”

Besides believing her case was “intentionally dragged out,” Julia also claims two separate HR managers told her she would face “disciplinary action” if she spoke out about it. Her manager allegedly required her to attend meetings with the senior researcher as well, despite being “partially” aware of her report, the Financial Times says. While Julia herself didn’t sign a non-disclosure agreement, many other DeepMind employees have.

In a separate post on Medium, Julia and others offered several suggestions as to how Alphabet (Google and DeepMind’s parent company) can improve its response to complaints and reported issues, such as doing away with the NDA policy for victims and setting a strict two-month time limit for HR to resolve grievances.

The Alphabet Workers Union also expressed support for Julia in a tweet, noting: “The NDAs we sign should never be used to silence victims of harassment or workplace abuse. Alphabet should have a global policy against this.”

In a statement to The Verge, DeepMind interim head of communications Laura Anderson acknowledged the struggles Julia went through but avoided taking accountability for her experiences. “DeepMind takes all allegations of workplace misconduct extremely seriously and we place our employees’ safety at the core of any actions we take,” Anderson said. “The allegations were investigated thoroughly, and the individual who was investigated for misconduct was dismissed without any severance payments… We’re sorry that our former employee experienced what they did and we recognise that they found the process difficult.”

DeepMind has faced concerns over its treatment of employees in the past. In 2019, a Bloomberg report said DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, also known as “Moose,” was placed on administrative leave for the controversy surrounding some of his projects. Suleyman left the company later that year to join Google. In 2021, a Wall Street Journal report revealed that Suleyman was deprived of management duties in 2019 for allegedly bullying staff members. Google also launched an investigation into his behavior at the time, but it never made its findings public.

“If anyone finds themselves in a similar situation: first, right now, before anything bad happens, join a union,” Julia said in response to the broader concerns. “Then if something bad happens: Document everything. Know your rights. Don’t let them drag it out. Stay vocal. These stories are real, they are happening to your colleagues.”

Correction April 5th 6:51PM ET: A previous version of the story stated Julia signed an NDA. She did not, but other DeepMind employees have. We regret the error.



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Security

Axie Infinity NFT game reopens transactions months after $625 million theft

Ronin Bridge, the link that enables users to transfer funds to and from accounts in the “play to earn” Axie Infinity game, has reopened following a $625 million theft that took place in March. Sky Mavis, the developer group behind Axie Infinity and the Ronin blockchain that powers the game, announced that players can now use the bridge to make deposits and withdrawals.

Since March, the Ronin Bridge has been closed off as Sky Mavis worked to bolster its security protocols and recover users’ funds. The attack went unnoticed for six days until a user tried to withdraw funds and couldn’t do it. In a postmortem, Sky Mavis blamed a spear-phishing attack that compromised an employee’s account, saying that person no longer works with the company, as well as its lack of a tracking system to monitor large outflows.

After conducting an investigation, the US Treasury Department attributed the hack to the North Korean hacking group Lazarus and issued sanctions on the wallet address containing the stolen cryptocurrency. Sky Mavis initially planned to have the bridge up and running by the end of April but later delayed its reopening, citing that “this is not a process we can afford to rush” because the bridge “will secure billions of dollars in assets.”

Sky Mavis appears to have followed through on its promise to compensate players affected by the theft. Although it notes that users’ funds are “fully backed 1:1 by the new bridge,” Sky Mavis still hasn’t made up for a large portion of the Ronin network’s stolen funds. After pooling money from the founding members of the Sky Mavis team and receiving $150 million in funding from a number of companies, including Binance, the firm says Ronin’s currently down 71,600 ETH (~$85.8 million) and 25.5 million USDC ($25.5 million). Sky Mavis says it’s reimbursing these liabilities in full.

But this still doesn’t account for the 56,000 wETH (~$67.2 million) drained from the Axie DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) Treasury, the group of people who vote on decisions for the Axie community. Sky Mavis says it’s working with law enforcement to retrieve these funds. If it doesn’t recover them within two years, the DAO will cast a vote on the “next steps.”

In a message on Discord, developers told players they’re also on track to add Land Staking this week, which is another scheme to help generate rewards for players who’ve invested money in the game. The Verge senior entertainment editor Andrew Webster tried playing the game and said, “The creatures are all extremely similar, and experimentation is nonexistent unless you want to fork out a bunch of cryptocurrency.”

It’s unclear what these changes will do to improve the actual gaming experience, even if the back end is, now, more secure. Shortly after the attack, Sky Mavis launched Axie Infinity: Origin, a newer version that includes free-to-play elements to try and attract new players who don’t have blockchain wallets yet.

To help prevent future thefts, the Ronin Bridge has undergone one internal audit and two external audits by blockchain security firms Verichains and Certik. The bridge also has a new “circuit-breaker system” designed to stop suspicious users from making unusually large withdrawals. You can read more about Ronin’s update in its blog post, as well as read up on its technical documentation.



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Categories
Game

Fortnite Minty Legends Pack winter skins revealed months early

In a somewhat surprising twist on its usual habits, Epic Games has revealed a winter skin bundle called Minty Legends Pack that won’t be available until early November. The company gives a sneak-peek at the skins that will be included in the pack, also promising buyers 1,000 V-Bucks and more. The company promises a ‘closer look’ at the new skins soon.

Epic won’t release the Fortnite Minty Legends Pack until November 2, at which point it will be available on all platforms that support the game as a digital purchase. As well, Epic plans to make physical releases available on the same day for the Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation consoles.

Though all of the Minty Legends Pack details haven’t yet been revealed, Epic did say that this bundle will feature 10 “fresh items,” including three new makeovers for existing skins:

– Fresh Aura
– Minty Bomber
– Skellemint Oro

It seems these will be the only skins included in the bundle; the other items will include three new “chilling” Back Bling items, a trio of spearing Pickaxes, and one “spicy hot Wrap.” Epic hasn’t revealed any of these items, but says it will offer a closer look at them soon.

The Fortnite Minty Legends Pack will also give players 1,000 V-Bucks, which should help make the pack’s price a little bit easier to justify. The company hasn’t yet said how much the bundle will cost, but we’ll know for sure by early November.

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Tech News

Apple Watch Series 6 Review: Six months of Pandemic Intervention

You take your health for granted, right up to the point where a global pandemic makes it abundantly clear just how fragile we all are. I’ve not taught myself a new language during lockdown, or written a bestselling novel, but for the past six months the Apple Watch Series 6 on my wrist has chronicled what I feel may have been an altogether more meaningful achievement.

Apple’s smartwatch range now includes three models. Cheapest – and most limited – is the Series 3, from $199. Really, though, I think most people should at least stretch to the Apple Watch SE, from $279, which has a bigger display among other niceties.

The Apple Watch Series 6 is the current flagship, from $399 in GPS form, or from $499 with a baked-in cellular connection. Bear in mind you’ll need to add it to your data plan – which typically costs $5-10 per month – in order to use it apart from your iPhone. Personally, I’m rarely without my phone, so I’d probably stick with the GPS-only version. You could spend the difference on bands, which are still as easy as ever to switch between.

Honestly, I’d expected this Apple Watch Series 6 review to be, well, more of the same. Great notifications, streamlined design, and some extra health features compared to its predecessors, but overall with a focus on making my work life more efficient and effective. Don’t get me wrong; that’s been enough to warrant their place on my wrist for the past few years. What I hadn’t predicted was how the new Apple Watch would become an integral element in a new part of my day to day life.

With the pandemic temporarily ending work travel, it suddenly became ominously clear that perhaps 90-percent of my regular exercise had consisted of power-walking through airports. Without that – and sure, yes, with the arrival of middle-age and maybe a little comfort eating – shirts were getting tighter and waistbands snugger.

I’d already ordered a Peloton Bike before Apple Fitness+ launched, and since I’d opted for the (cheaper) model without direct Apple Watch synchronization the bike and the wearable weren’t on speaking terms. If I’d spent more on Peloton’s Bike+ then it could’ve linked directly to the Apple Watch and grabbed things like its heart rate readings; regardless of model, the Peloton iOS app synchronizes with Apple Health post-ride. Over six months where my health and, as important maybe, my perception of my health have been a focus, the two separate platforms have been instrumental.

The persistence of watchOS is a large part of that. There’s the watch’s sheer ubiquity: on my wrist when I wake up, and taken off only when I go to bed. I’m not using it for sleep tracking as, perversely, I tend to get a less restful night when I’m wearing a tracker. Even with non-contact sleep tracking, though, I’ve been left with the same uncertainty as to what exactly I’m meant to do with all that generated data.

The Apple Watch’s health rings, in contrast, need no explaining. They’ve been around since the first generation of the wearable, of course; with my own renewed focus on them, I feel like I’m finally arriving late to the party. Like discovering your new favorite show, when everyone else has already watched up to season 5.

Prior to Apple Watch Series 6, completing my rings – there are three, for general movement in calories, active exercise in minutes, and a count of standing time tracked per hour – was the weekend exception, not the daily rule. The semi-regular reminders from watchOS were a low-level guilt trip. “Your Move ring is usually much further along than this, Chris,” on Monday, twisting the sword after a morning glued to my laptop screen.

There is something about a pandemic, it turns out, to make you think more about health and fragility. When the Peloton arrived I had thirty days to decide whether to keep it or return it, and the Apple Watch proved the perfect way to hold me to my commitment to at least give regular exercise a proper shot.

At the same time, some of the Series 6’s unique talents like blood oxygen monitoring had taken on a new dimension when half the headlines are suddenly about a new, semi-mysterious respiratory infection. I’d already ordered an SpO2 meter – a little clip that fixes to your fingertip and claims to calculate your current saturation level of oxygen in your bloodstream – and now I could echo that with Apple Watch readings too. That the two typically concurred was reassuring; in my early days of post-exercise breathlessness, I could check to see if my lungs’ apparent struggle was from general unhealthiness rather than COVID-specificity.

None of this would’ve been sticky enough had the watch not been so firmly embedded into the rest of my day, of course. It’s hard, nearly impossible in fact, to argue with the idea that the Apple Watch provides the best smartwatch experience at the moment. To the point, indeed, that I know people who use an iPhone primarily because they want an Apple Watch, not the other way around.

As ever, it’s an adjunct to that smartphone, not a replacement. My wrist is a buzz of regular notifications; to actually do much in response to them I’m still pulling out my iPhone. I think of the Apple Watch as part of a triage system, minimizing phone distractions rather than removing them completely.

Siri remains, well, Siri for better or worse. I’ve found Apple’s assistant is more useful now that HomeKit, the company’s smart home platform, has spread and is compatible with more devices, since being able to trigger scenes with a voice command to my wrist makes living with connected lights, music, and shades more straightforward to navigate.

Battery life seems better than my old Apple Watch Series 5, though it’s worth noting that my stationary bike tracking isn’t placing demands on the wearable’s GPS sensor. Still, even when I’ve mixed things up and gone for extended hikes, I’ve never put the watch on its charger at the end of the day and had less than a quarter of its power still remaining. Usually there’s even more than that.

Apple Watch Series 6 Verdict

I’d always internally sneered at people excited at the idea of continuing a streak of activity on their Apple Watch. With my own now approaching 200 days, though, I’ve had the belated realization that such people aren’t just Pavlov’s dogs, in thrall to their wearable. Setting goals is hard, and sticking to them is harder, especially during a period where the rules and structure of daily life are somehow both strict and nebulous at the same time.

You may well be reading this and nodding, wondering why it took me so long to catch on myself. For you, the Apple Watch Series 6 offers a longer battery and useful, though not essential, blood oxygen monitoring. If you’re on a Series 4 or earlier, it’s worth the upgrade; if you already have a Series 5, I’d wait to see what the next-generation brings.

Though the Apple Watch SE remains my budget pick as an all-rounder, stepping up to the Series 6 does bring niceties like the always-on display, along with ECG and blood oxygen tracking, which I think are more than worth the extra outlay. If you’re like me, and you have plenty of good intentions but struggle with the consistency of implementation, then the Apple Watch is a well-rounded way to nudge you back on track.

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Game

Six months with Xbox Series X

Just like the PlayStation 5, the Xbox Series X turned six months old in May. Separated by just couple of weeks (here in the US at least), you’d think that maybe the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X would be following similar trajectories only six months out from launch. While that may be true in some respects, in others it already feels like the two consoles are walking divergent paths.

One area where the two consoles are still fairly similar is the games department. There isn’t a ton to write home about at the moment on either console, though Sony has been getting the ball rolling on its PS5 exclusives with titles like Returnal and the upcoming Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.

While the Xbox Series X lost its major launch title when Halo Infinite was delayed, that is once again on the horizon and is probably going to be one of the biggest launches of the year. Will it be good? That’s the question on everyone’s minds. While Halo Infinite is probably going to sell well at the start regardless of how good it is, last year’s demo and the decision to delay it by a year definitely have some people wondering if Halo Infinite can live up to the hype.

Assuming it is good, then Halo Infinite could very well prove to be the Xbox Series X’s killer app – the game that moves some consoles and drives a ton of Game Pass subscriptions for Microsoft. For now, however, Xbox Series X exclusives are slim for sure.

There are some, but most of them are games from the previous generation that have been upgraded for Microsoft’s new hardware. There’s nothing wrong with that, because I’m sure people are happy to put the extra horsepower of the Xbox Series X to work in games like Forza Horizon 4, but the fact remains that these are older games gussied up for new hardware, not new games made with that hardware in mind from the start. The same is true over on the PlayStation 5 side of things, so even though the new consoles are here, it still very much feels like we’re in the transitional phase.

Enter Xbox Game Pass. This is the time to shine for Xbox Game Pass and shining is exactly what it’s doing. What the Xbox Series X may currently lack in compelling exclusives or true next-generation games it more than makes up for with Xbox Game Pass. While I said in my six-month check in with PlayStation 5 that the PlayStation Plus Collection is a like a curated, perfected restaurant menu and Xbox Game Pass is like an all you can eat buffet, we must consider that sometimes buffets are exactly what you want.

On the whole, I’ve probably spent more time on Xbox Series X than I have PlayStation 5 just because of Xbox Game Pass. I would argue that right now, PlayStation 5 has more compelling games made specifically for it between titles like Returnal and Demon’s Souls, but Xbox Game Pass is offering a lot of value.

Lest we forget Microsoft has also decided to make things interesting by snatching up ZeniMax Media and all of its subsidiaries earlier in the year. In an instant, what was looking like a significant edge for Sony in the realm of exclusives has been matched by Microsoft’s acquisition of ZeniMax. From here on out, major franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and DOOM are all now owned by Microsoft, and Microsoft is definitely going to use those to not only sell Xboxes but also bring swathes of people into Xbox Game Pass.

Sony still has what should be a stellar lineup of exclusives for the PlayStation 5, but it’s clear that Microsoft is not going to be the passive competitor it was in the previous generation. While Microsoft clearly does not have a problem putting its games on other platforms, it’s probably too much to hope that The Elder Scrolls or Fallout will ever see a release on a PlayStation console from here on out, as Microsoft has suggested an exclusive future for the franchises it acquired in its ZeniMax buyout.

While some may have expected Microsoft to focus primarily on Xbox Game Pass as Sony focused on pumping out quality exclusives this generation, it seems that the console wars are back on. Between Xbox Game Pass and this ZeniMax acquisition, Microsoft is going to be the company to watch in the coming months and years, because it’s no doubt going to be making some big moves this generation.

At the moment, though, things are basically business as usual. The Xbox Series X sort of feels like a sequel to the Xbox One or a continuation of the previous generation rather than a completely new console in a completely new generation. There are a few different factors contributing to that feeling. For starters, Microsoft very deliberately made a unified UI for both Xbox Series X and Xbox One, so jumping between consoles is a pretty seamless experience. That’s actually a good thing for those who plan to game on both an Xbox One and an Xbox Series X, but it also means that the Xbox Series X doesn’t really feel distinct until you get in-game and see the differences for yourself.

There’s also the fact that Microsoft didn’t really change the Xbox Wireless Controller in the jump to the new generation. We have a redesigned d-pad that feels like the d-pad on the Xbox Elite Controller, but that’s the biggest change to be found on the new Xbox Wireless Controller. Compare that to the DualSense, which represents a dramatic change in design from the DualShock 4, and the new generation feels a lot more familiar with Xbox.

Of course, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Xbox One controller was one fantastic gamepad, and as the adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Dramatic change like what we saw from the DualShock 4 to the DualSense can be a great thing, but there’s something to be said for recognizing when things are good already and committing only to small, deliberate change.

One thing that has changed in a big way and definitely for the better is the storage. In my PS5 retrospective I said that the SSDs in these new consoles are the most exciting thing about the new generation and I will repeat that here as well. Quick Resume on the Xbox Series X is a thing of beauty, and the quick loading times bequeathed unto us by to some really sweet SSD tech will really change the game this generation.

So, while the first six months of the Xbox Series X have definitely been a slow burn, the future looks bright both for Microsoft and Sony. It’s going to be an exciting generation for multiple reasons, and it could be one of the most dynamic hardware generations that we’ve ever seen.

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Categories
Game

Six months with PlayStation 5

It’s been just a little over six months since the PlayStation 5 arrived here in the US. While global stock shortages persist and don’t seem to be getting better, Sony is clearly selling consoles to some people judging by the fact that it has managed to sell 7.8 million PS5s thus far. The beginning of a new console generation is always exciting, but what does the PlayStation landscape look like six months after release?

As it turns out, it looks mostly the same as it did a few months ago. It very much feels like the PlayStation 5 is still winding up, but even though we’re still very early on in the generation, we’re seeing some promising things.

And yes, it’s a little unfair to do the whole “there are no games” thing because, while marquee titles are still rather thin, we’re seeing signs of that changing. For instance, the indie space on the PlayStation 5 seems to be getting larger by the day, and not only that, but Sony itself has served up some solid games. I don’t think Spider-Man: Miles Morales is going to go down as one of the all-time great launch titles, but bundled with Spider-Man Remastered makes it a pretty good value for those who managed to snag a console around launch.

More recently, we’ve seen Returnal launch to solid reception from fans and critics alike, and it has the distinction of being one of the few truly next-gen games that’s made for the PlayStation 5 and nothing else (though it would be a good candidate for one of Sony’s PC releases later on down the line). In just a few short weeks, we’ll see Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart launch, and while we obviously don’t know how good that game will be, the stuff Sony has shared pre-release looks pretty good. Not only has Rift Apart impressed so far, but it’s hard to name the last time a studio like Insomniac disappointed.

So, while the PlayStation 5 still has a long way to go before we’re in the Land of A Thousand Exclusives like we were with the PlayStation 4, but there are already some solid options available for the PlayStation 5 with more on the way. Looking ahead, Sony is expected to release God of War: Ragnarok and Horizon Forbidden West at some point this year, and once those two games are here, it’ll probably feel like the next generation has truly arrived for most PS5 owners.

For now, though, most of the games releasing on PS5 are either games that are launching simultaneously on previous-generation consoles or games that originally launched for PS4 and have been upgraded for PS5, and that’s okay. There was a lot of overlap between the Xbox 360/PS3 generation and the one that came after it, so it makes sense that we’d see the same thing here, especially when the PlayStation 4 still seems to be selling well enough.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9p_gg9UW9k4

I will say that this is where the PlayStation Plus Collection comes in handy, particularly for PlayStation 5 owners who might be buying their first console in a while or just those who never got the chance to play most of these games in the past. If Xbox Game Pass is an all-you-can eat buffet with high points and low points, the PlayStation Plus Collection is almost a perfectly curated menu at a really nice restaurant – you may have fewer options that you do at the buffet, but everything on the menu is almost certain to hit. The PlayStation Plus Collection is just the latest entry on a long list of things that prove “quality over quantity” are words to live by.

I remain impressed by the PS5’s hardware. I think that the SSD in particular is awesome. The same goes for the Xbox Series X, to be honest; I think that this generation, what feels like the biggest leap forward will actually come from the SSDs at the center of both of these consoles. I’m still loving the DualSense controller as well, though I am looking forward to buying it in a color other than white. Color preferences aside, I’m excited to see how more games take advantage of the controller in the future, and while I can appreciate the fact that Microsoft elected to keep things mostly the same in the Xbox Series X controller, it is also nice to have a very distinct change in the controller from one generation to another.

The PlayStation 5 is still absolutely massive, and it’s really hard to understate just how big this thing is for someone who hasn’t gotten their hands on it yet. I’m very much looking forward to the inevitable PS5 Slim in a couple of years, and you can bet that I will definitely be trading up to that model. That’s particularly true if it has a bigger SSD, because let’s face it, 667GB of usage storage space just doesn’t cut it in 2021. I understand that Sony probably had to make concessions for the tech and in an effort to keep the price of the PlayStation 5 at $500, but we could definitely use more internal storage in future models.

I also think that Sony has to figure out its answer to Xbox Game Pass, because I’m not sure if exclusives alone can do it. Even though I just compared the PlayStation Plus Collection’s curated restaurant menu to the all you can eat buffet that is Xbox Game Pass, there’s no denying that Xbox Game Pass offers a lot of value that may sway people who are on the fence over to PC or Xbox Series X. If I were a PlayStation executive, I would be really happy with how things are shaping up and the console’s prospects, but there would be a little voice in the back of my head reminding me that I need to come up with a solution for Xbox Game Pass.

Still, even if Sony doesn’t come up with the perfect answer to Game Pass, there’s no real denying that if the company simply stays the course from the previous generation, things will probably turn out just fine. Right now, the PlayStation 5 is the next-gen console everyone seems to want, so it’s really Sony’s generation to lose. Following the previous generation, Microsoft has to make the case for owning an Xbox Series X – and that’s a position Sony isn’t in with the PlayStation 5.

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Game

Destiny 2 Cross-Play goes live months ahead of schedule

MMOs have never really gone away but they have definitely moved on from cookie-cutter RPGs. Some of the most popular ones like Destiny 2 do have RPG elements but focus more heavily on the cooperative and competitive aspects of gameplay. As massive as these worlds may be, however, some of them are still confined within the worlds of their respective platforms, even if they’re actually available on multiple ones. Destiny 2 finally breaks down those barriers with Cross-Play support that just went live well ahead of its estimated launch date.

It was actually late last year when developer Bungie announced full cross-play support coming to Destiny 2. That meant that all players on all platforms will be able to play with and against one another, whether they’re on consoles, PC, or streaming via Google Stadia. The initial target date for the feature’s release was sometime in the Fall of 2021 but, lo and behold, someone flipped the Switch now.

Stadia Source reports Stadia players seeing Destiny 2 players with usernames that wouldn’t have been allowed on Stadia. They’ve also started seeing friends who were on other platforms, like Steam or NVIDIA GeForce NOW. It isn’t yet clear how widespread cross-play availability is but it’s looking good for players indeed.

It’s also uncertain whether the availability of cross-play was accidental or intentional. Judging by those same reports, users are getting mixed results in getting the feature to work. Cross-platform invites, in particular, are still missing and workarounds are needed to get any sort of cross-play started.

Destiny 2 Cross-Play arrived with the new Season of the Splicer update, though it definitely didn’t mention that critical new feature. That season brings Armor Synthesis, among other things, that was already earning a lot of criticism even before it became available.

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Game

FFVII Intergrade is PS5 Exclusive for at Least Six Months

According to the final trailer for Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade, the upgraded RPG will be exclusive to the PlayStation 5 for at least six months.

The original version of Final Fantasy VII Remake was a timed PlayStation exclusive for one year. Fans hoped that a PC or Xbox version would be announced once that period of time was up, but that’s yet to happen. The new Intergrade details now cast even more doubt on the game coming to other platforms anytime soon.

The game’s new trailer ends with a splash screen that mentions the game is a PS5 console exclusive. A bit of fine print specifies that it will be “available on PS5 at least six months earlier than any other format.” That’s specifically referring to the new next-gen upgrade, so there’s still a chance the original version of the game could still come to Xbox before then.

The new Intergrade trailer shows off tons of new footage for the game. Most notably, there’s a new version of Final Fantasy VII‘s classic Fort Condor minigame. It’s a turn-based strategy board game where players command an army of units and fight waves of enemies.

The trailer features a few surprising appearances from the series’ past. Most notably, the villainous Nero from the Dirge of Cerberus spinoff title makes an appearance here. The classic Ramuh summon is showcased as well.

Square Enix has also opened applications for the Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier closed beta. The beta will only take place on Android devices, and applications close May 27.

Editors’ Choice






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Tech News

AppleCare+ plans can now be extended for longer than 36 months

Anytime someone buys a new Apple product such as an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Mac, they often buy the AppleCare+ extended warranty. That warranty covers the devices for all manner of accidental breakage and other issues. Apple recently announced that in Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the US, owners who originally purchased AppleCare+ can renew their coverage for longer than was previously allowed.

Users are required to purchase their new coverage within 30 days of the date of their original coverage ending. Users who pay monthly or annually for AppleCare+ don’t need to take any action to renew their plans. Plan coverage can be continued beyond 24 or 36 months on a monthly or annual basis until the user cancels the coverage.

Apple does note that users who choose to continue their coverage will be subject to the current AppleCare+ terms and conditions. Buyers in China who purchased 24 months of coverage upfront will be able to continue coverage on an annual basis when their 24-month initial period is over. Those who paid annually will renew annually each year until they cancel.

Users in China can renew within 30 days of the end date of their current coverage. The coverage end date can be found in “settings – general – about” where they can tap the AppleCare+ Coverage Available option and follow instructions to register. Users can follow the “settings – general – about” path and then tap the name of their AppleCare plan to see when their coverage expires.

Coverage can also be verified on the mysupport.apple.com website. Expiration dates are also noted in the Proof of Coverage or Plan Confirmation message sent when the AppleCare+ plan was initially purchased. Apple outlined the steps on its support page with an updated document published on April 20.

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Security

Microsoft was warned months ago — now, the Hafnium hack has grown to gigantic proportions

On Friday, cybersecurity journalists Brian Krebs and Andy Greenberg reported that as many as 30,000 organizations had been compromised in an unprecedented email server hack, believed to have originated from a state-sponsored Chinese hacking group known as Hafnium.

Over the weekend, that estimate has doubled to 60,000 Microsoft Exchange Server customers hacked around the world, with the European Banking Authority now admitting that it’s one of the victims — and it looks like Microsoft may have taken a little too long to realize the severity and patch it. Krebs has now put together a basic timeline of the massive Exchange Server hack, and he says Microsoft has confirmed it was made aware of the vulnerabilities in early January.

That’s nearly two months before Microsoft issued its first set of patches, alongside a blog post that didn’t explain the scope or scale of the attack. Originally, it was even planning to wait for one of its standard Patch Tuesdays but relented and pushed it out a week early.

Now, MIT Technology Review reports Hafnium may not be the only threat, citing a cybersecurity analyst who claims there appear to be at least five hacking groups actively exploiting the Exchange Server flaws as of Saturday. Government officials are reportedly scrambling to do something, with one state official telling Cyberscoop that it’s “a big F’ing deal.”

More diplomatically, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called it “an active threat,” drawing more attention to the emergency directive that the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency sent out March 3rd. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan has warned about it as well, as has former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director Christopher Krebs and the White House National Security Council.

At this point, the message should be clear that anyone who installed a local Microsoft Exchange Server (2010, 2013, 2016, or 2019) needs to patch and scan, but we’re only beginning to understand the scope of the damage. Hackers reportedly installed malware that can let them right back into those servers again, and we don’t yet know what they might have already taken.

“We are undertaking a whole of government response to assess and address the impact,” reads part of an email from a White House official, according to Bloomberg.

Microsoft declined to comment about the timing of its patches and disclosures, pointing us to a previous statement instead: “We are working closely with the CISA, other government agencies, and security companies, to ensure we are providing the best possible guidance and mitigation for our customers. The best protection is to apply updates as soon as possible across all impacted systems. We continue to help customers by providing additional investigation and mitigation guidance. Impacted customers should contact our support teams for additional help and resources.”

Update, 4:27PM ET: Added Microsoft’s decline to comment, and earlier statement.



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