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AI

Google announces new search tools for online shopping

Shopping online isn’t always a convenience. If you enjoy window shopping or browsing curated collections at a brick-and-mortar store for inspiration, finding something online you don’t yet know you want or are unaware of is tricky if you start with a text search. Google is announcing new shopping search tools to try to alleviate this, with features that utilize Google Lens for finding products to buy from pictures online, broader search terms to help you browse clothing, and the ability to check in-store inventory from home. It claims the new tools will help shoppers “find what they’re looking for in a more visual way.” This comes after Google allowed all businesses to create listings on Google Shopping for free last year. Now, it wants more window shopping to be done right from Google search.

Google Lens has been around since 2017, replacing Google Goggles that came before it, with the ability to use a smartphone camera to conduct visual searches based on the identification of objects found in the real world. Those image searches have allowed users to learn more about the things around them, even finding the same or similar item to buy without looking for a label or barcode to scan. Now, Google wants to make it possible to shop for any product you see in an image or video on the web with nothing more than the picture itself. Soon, iOS users will have a new dedicated button in the Google app, allowing a Google Lens search of any image on a page to bring up Google Shopping listings for purchase through a visual match. The feature will also be coming to Chrome on the desktop.

Google did not give specific dates for this feature launching on iOS or desktop, stating that it hopes to roll them out by the end of the year. There was no initial mention of if or when this feature may come to Android, but Google has clarified that it plans to extend this functionality to Android at a later date, after the iOS and desktop versions.

Google Lens search in the Google app on iOS.
GIF: Google

Desktop Google Lens search on Chrome.
GIF: Google

Another shopping-focused feature coming from Google, which has surely been spurred on by the boom in e-commerce since the beginning of the pandemic, is easier browsing of clothing, accessories, and shoes via search results based on general terms. Google says that if you search for a generic article on mobile, for example, “cropped jackets,” you will see a visual feed of that type of clothing in a variety of colors and designs. These visual results will be accompanied by relevant videos, style guides, or local shops that carry those styles. From there, you can filter your search further according to brand, style, or department; check ratings and reviews; or compare prices on the results that appeal to you most.

Google calls this window shopping, which is one of the challenges of shopping for clothes online compared to going to a physical store to see what’s on display. It claims the dataset is pulled from over 24 billion product listings. The new feature is available only on mobile and is usable right from a Google search beginning today.

Shoppable search within the Google app.
GIF: Google

The third and final Google Shopping update allows users to remotely check in-store inventory directly within a Google search. Shoppers searching for a product are able to filter by “in stock.” This selection should show nearby stores that have the item available. Google claims the new feature can help a small business attract new customers, though it remains to be seen how accurate it might be across a variety of retailers and how one might ensure a product is there for them once they arrive — particularly at small businesses that do not have curbside or in-store pickup.

Google has indicated that it does rely on data from the retailer to determine stock status and claims it will only indicate an item is in stock when there is high confidence; otherwise, it may show limited stock.

The new “in stock” filter is available today across mobile web browsers and the Google app on both iOS and Android.

Google’s in-stock filtering when shopping nearby locations for an item.
GIF: Google

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Game

The original ‘Pokémon Snap’ comes to Switch Online on June 24th

Are you more interested in playing the original Pokémon Snap than the modern version? You won’t have to pull your Nintendo 64 out of the closet to do it. Nintendo is releasing the N64 game on June 24th for gamers subscribed to Switch Online with the Expansion Pack. It’s still the on-rails (sometimes literally) creature photo safari you remember, complete with tossing fruit to either attract or stun Pokémon in the name of a perfect snapshot.

There’s no mention of any Switch-specific enhancements. The Virtual Console version for the Wii let you post critter pictures on a message board, but that’s not strictly necessary when the Switch lets you capture screenshots to post on Facebook or Twitter.

Pokémon Snap probably won’t persuade you to get the Expansion Pack by itself. Along with classics like Paper Mario and Kirby 64, though, the pattern is clear. Nintendo is still busy fleshing out Switch Online’s extended library with some of the better-known games from the N64 era, and it doesn’t mind adding titles that have present-day counterparts.

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Game

Nintendo Switch Online gets three special version Kirby games

Nintendo has been boosting its Switch Online retro library at a fast pace, recently adding Congo’s Caper, Rival Turf and Kirby 64. Now with version 3.3.0, it’s adding three more Kirby titles, all special SP versions with secret modes unlocked: Kirby Super Star, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 and Kirby’s Dream Course.

Kirby Super Star originally launched on Super NES with eight side-scrolling platform games, including two minigames. Secret modes available include Meta Knight, Milky Way Wishes and the Arena. SNES platformer Kirby’s Dream Land 3, meanwhile, includes extra options like Play Extra Course and the Dance Select option. Finally, with the miniature golf game Kirby’s Dream Course (SNES), you automatically get 100 percent completion and access to all stages if you choose.

A Nintendo Switch Online subscription unlocks online play, cloud saves and access to a library of NES and SNES games on the Switch. To gain access to N64 and Sega Genesis titles, you’ll need an additional paid tier called the Expansion Pack. Switch Online costs $20 annually, while the Expansion Pack is $50 per year.

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Security

Muslims struggle with how much to share online after NYPD surveillance

Thirteen years ago, Mosaab Sadeia accompanied his father to a mosque in Staten Island. He remembers it was during the winter, after the last Isha prayer when his father went to meet with the sheikh. Mosaab remembers grabbing a book from the bookshelf and sitting down down to read it. Then, a man he had never seen before in his close-knit community came up to him and asked him, “What do you think of Hamas?”

Sadeia was stunned. He was just nine years old.

The man was suspected of being an informant, although it was never confirmed. (Many never are.) And though it was Mosaab’s first encounter with surveillance, it wouldn’t be his last. It’s a common story among Muslims in New York — and in an age of oversharing, that experience has had a strange impact. Many, like Sadeia, have grown up cautious of saying too much online, wary of others like the man he met that day. A younger generation of Muslims has taken a more vocal approach, eager to break out of the fear of surveillance. But for both, the experience of social media is inseparable from the feeling of being watched — and the experience of being Muslim in New York City after 9/11.

Since 2002, the NYPD has religiously profiled and surveilled Muslims in New York City and neighboring states in an attempt to find “radicalization.” The NYPD Intelligence Division has mapped Muslim communities, conducted photo and video surveillance, recruited informants, tracked those who changed their names, and generated intelligence databases, according to the ACLU. In 2011, the Associated Press exposed the extent of the NYPD’s surveillance, determining that the NYPD “subjected entire neighborhoods to surveillance and scrutiny, often because of the ethnicity of the residents, not because of any accusations of crimes.” In 2012, the NYPD acknowledged in testimony that the Demographics Unit — its name for the internal group that carried out the surveillance — never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation in its years of operation.

In 2014, the Demographics Unit was discontinued, but it still casts a long shadow over the city’s Muslim communities. Sadeia is now outreach director at Majlis Ash-Shura: Islamic Leadership Council of New York, and remembers countless other incidents where he felt he was being surveilled. He has had random people ask him what his opinions on the caliphate are; what he thinks about Israel. Some of the people who asked him such questions were later confirmed by the mosques to be informants.

“It’s just someone who you have no idea who they are. You’ve never seen them and no one knows them and they come inside the masjid and start asking really weird questions. And you’re just sitting there not really sure how to react,” he told The Verge. “A normal person in the time we live in doesn’t ask questions like that.”

Even though he attended an Islamic school, Sadeia says he was always cautious of what he said in class. In college, he learned to “speak smart.” Even after graduating, he is not as active on social media as other people his age.

“Even after I made a social media account, there was always the rule of ‘You don’t talk about politics on social media, you don’t talk about what happens in other countries on social media.’ Partly because of the US government and its history of entrapping people and lying about it,” he said. “I don’t share many details of my personal life online. That’s just my way of protection. Not that it isn’t out there and can’t be found, but why should I make it easier for someone who is tracking me?”

Ainikki Riikonen, a researcher with the technology and national security program with the Center for a New American Security, says the conversation around Muslim surveillance is shifting, but only slowly. “Counterterrorism is a profession, it’s an expertise. People spend their lives getting Ph.D.’s and getting really specific knowledge on very specific groups and ways of network analysis,” Riikonen says. “Twenty years on, there’s no excuse to be doing this blanket surveillance and targeting people on the basis of religion. There’s absolutely no excuse.”

Twenty-four-year-old Haris Khan, a community organizer and a board member at the Muslim Democratic Club of New York (MDCNY), is much more active on social media than Sadeia. When Khan was a student at the City College of New York, he heard from many of his classmates about their experiences and how afraid they were. During his own time in college, he found himself shying away from his faith publicly in an effort to not be so different, to try to fit in, to assimilate. Eventually he realized there was no point in staying silent.

“Trying to fit in or being quiet about issues … Even if you do all of that, you still get called a terrorist,” Khan said. “So why do we even bother pretending that we’re not fully Muslim? Why do we even bother not being our authentic selves? They’re going to weaponize our identity either way. We might as well use it to organize and mobilize and speak our truth.”

Khan works in the political field, and even that doesn’t stop him from showcasing his opinions publicly online. After the historic Al-Aqsa Mosque was raided in Jerusalem during Ramadan this year, Khan put up a tweet about how he was feeling. Soon enough, he had people tweeting back telling him he should be fired from his government job because, as he saw it, “I have a political opinion about ending the apartheid.”

Still, he sees Twitter blowback as a small price to pay for having a space to share his views openly. “I am not afraid of being surveilled for my viewpoints, for my desire to see a just world,” Khan said. “They can copy and paste my tweets and my posts. It is what it is, that is who I am. That is what my family has taught me. That is what the community I belong to values.”

In 2012, Asad Dandia, the community programs coordinator at the Council on American-Islamic Relations New York (CAIR-NY), found out he had been surveilled for seven months by a person he had befriended. The informant traveled with him and his friends to events, lectures, and would even assist them in delivering food to homeless people every night. So when Dandia found out that his friend was an informant all along, the betrayal was palpable. He remembers anxiety attacks and a constant paranoia. The next year, he joined a class action lawsuit against the NYPD over surveillance of Muslims, resulting in new protections against the practice.

Ultimately, the experience made Dandia value his ties to the community even more. “We have to keep each other safe.” he said. “One of the intended effects of surveillance is to stifle your speech, to stifle your community activity, and essentially they want you to not be active. I always say do the reverse. Be as active and involved as possible, get in touch with organizations that can help you.”

“And do not cower,” he continued. “Because they want you to cower.”

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Categories
Game

Nintendo is adding the original ‘Paper Mario’ to the Switch Online Expansion Pack

Nintendo launched its paid Switch Online Expansion Pack tier with a very limited number of N64 games in October. And according to Kotaku, they were plagued with various technical issues, such as wonky layouts, poor graphics quality and bugs that cause crashes. Soon, though, the gaming giant will add a Nintendo 64 classic to the list of titles you can access with the subscription service: The original Paper Mario game that was released over 20 years ago. 

The base Switch Online subscription, which gives you access to NES and SNES titles, costs $20 a year. If you want to play the N64 games the expansion pack offers, you’ll have pony up $50 a year or $80 for a family plan. In addition to getting access to N64 games, the more expensive tier also include retro SEGA Genesis games and the $25 Animal Crossing: Happy Home Paradise DLC. There’s still a huge jump from $20 to $50, though, and the addition of Paper Mario could convince fans of the series to subscribe. 

Here’s a summary of what the turn-based game is about:

“After Bowser steals the Star Rod and kidnaps Princess Peach, Mario plots to rescue the seven Star Spirits and free the Mushroom Kingdom from the Koopa’s rule. As Mario travels from the tropical jungles of Lavalava Island to the frosty heights of Shiver Mountain, he’ll need all the help he can get. Master the abilities of the seven Star Spirits and the other allies joining the adventure to aid our hero on the battlefield.”

Paper Mario for the N64 will be available to Expansion Pack subscribers starting on December 10th.  

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Categories
Game

Paper Mario launches N64 era on Switch Online but doesn’t nail the landing

Earlier this year, Nintendo announced the Switch Online Expansion Pack. While the Expansion Pack doesn’t offer any improvements to the online service at the center of the subscription, it does offer various extra perks for those willing to shoulder the additional cost. Those perks include access to libraries of Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games, along with ongoing access to the Happy Home Paradise DLC for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Nintendo has now confirmed that the first post-launch addition to the N64 library will be Paper Mario.

Nintendo Co., Ltd., Nintendo of America Inc.

A classic Nintendo 64 game comes to Switch this month

As far as Nintendo 64 games are concerned, Paper Mario is right up there as one of the classics. A spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG on the Super NES, Paper Mario blazed a new trail for Mario role-playing games when it was originally released. Paper Mario is a fantastic game, and if you’re subscribed to Nintendo Switch Online with the Expansion Pack, it’s well worth checking out when it arrives on the service later this month.

When will it arrive? Nintendo has announced a December 10th release date for Paper Mario, so release is right around the corner. Sadly, Paper Mario is the sole addition to Nintendo Switch Online for the 10th. There are no new NES, SNES, or Sega Genesis games heading to Switch Online alongside it, so hopefully, it won’t be long before we see more additions to some or all of those libraries.

Does Paper Mario make NSO’s Expansion Pack worth it?

It’s no secret that the price of Nintendo Switch Online’s Expansion Pack is a tough pill to swallow. A standard Nintendo Switch Online subscription costs $20 a year and allows you to play online multiplayer games, allows access to libraries of NES and SNES games, and includes a few freebies like Tetris 99 and Pac-Man 99. Nintendo’s online service is not great – something we’ve mentioned in reviews for games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Super Mario Maker 2 – but $20 is still a reasonable price considering what a subscription includes.

The Expansion Pack, on the other hand, adds collections of Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games along with access to the Happy Home Paradise DLC for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a DLC that costs $25 to buy outright. The Expansion Pack adds another $30 per year to the Nintendo Switch Online subscription cost, bringing the total to $50 a year. Is the Expansion Pack worth subscribing to?

Simply put: probably not for most. If you’re only interested in playing Nintendo 64 or Sega Genesis games, the Expansion Pack definitely isn’t worth it. It is, admittedly, impossible to play most of the N64 games included in the Switch Online Expansion Pack on modern platforms, but there are plenty of options for revisiting the many of the Sega Genesis games that are included because Sega loves its compilations.

The sole addition of Paper Mario doesn’t really improve the Expansion Pack’s value proposition. Perhaps there will be a point in the future where there are enough Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games to warrant the extra cost. Still, for now, the Expansion Pack should only really be a consideration for Animal Crossing fans who want the Happy Home Paradise expansion in addition to the N64 and Genesis titles.

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Categories
Game

Roblox is now back online without any explanation for long outage [UPDATE]

When Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp went dark a few weeks ago, the Internet was unsurprisingly on fire with speculations and theories, especially considering the timing of the outage. The truth was stranger than fiction, though, and Facebook, now called Meta, attributed it to simple human error. Roblox’s case, however, is still shrouded in mystery even after it has finally gone back online after almost three days of being inaccessible to all gamers.

You might be forgiven for not knowing what Roblox is, especially if you don’t consider yourself to be any sort of gamer. In practice, however, Roblox is more of an open-world virtual sandbox in the same vein as Minecraft, though using higher-quality 3D models than Minecraft’s blocky voxels. It reportedly has over 40 million users daily, so its sudden and unexplained outage naturally made tech headlines.

As of this writing, Roblox is back online, according to a very brief tweet from the company. It’s definitely good news for those who have been waiting since October 29 to enter the virtual world, though some are understandably a bit peeved by the company’s responses to inquiries about the incident.

Roblox’s developers did make it clear that the outage wasn’t due to an external intrusion, otherwise known as a hacking incident. It has nothing to do with Chipotle either, the company also clarified without naming names. Chipotle was offering $1 million worth of burritos in Roblox that you can redeem for real-world food.

Unfortunately, that leaves users questioning what happened to take Roblox down for that long. Given its audience, which includes kids that may have been emotionally affected by the outage, the company should probably issue some statement to answer parents’ questions. While it is insisting that there was no security intrusion, keeping mum even on broad technical details might not inspire confidence in a platform that caters to younger audiences.

Update: Roblox has finally issued an official statement detailing the cause of the outage. In a nutshell, it was caused by a combination of several technical factors that made it more difficult for the company to quickly trace down the source of the error and fix it. Again, there was no security-related incident and Roblox users and their parents can rest assured that their personal information is safe. More importantly, Roblox is committing to implementing policies that will safeguard creators who can become economically vulnerable to outages like this.



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Categories
Game

Roblox Getting Back Online After Three-day Global Outage

If any parents rely on Roblox to keep their young kids occupied, then the last three days may have been rather stressful.

The popular online gaming and game creation platform crashed on Thursday, October 28, and it’s taken until Sunday evening to get to the bottom of the issue and restore services.

“Roblox is back online everywhere!” the California-based company said in a tweet on Sunday at about 7:30 p.m. ET, adding: “Thank you for your continued patience as we get back to normal.” Three hours earlier it said it was “incrementally bringing regions back online.”

Roblox is back online everywhere! Thank you for your continued patience as we get back to normal.

— Roblox (@Roblox) October 31, 2021

The company hasn’t offered any details about why the platform went down. Some folks suggested the issue may have been linked to a promotional partnership with Chipotle that launched shortly before Roblox hit the buffers, but the company appeared to reject the claims, tweeting that the outage “was not related to any specific experiences or partnerships on the platform.”

Later, on Saturday, it tweeted another message, saying it believed it had “identified an underlying internal cause of the outage,” adding that it was “in the process of performing the necessary engineering and maintenance work to get Roblox back up and running ASAP.”

Roblox fans — whether those who play it or the parents who love nothing more than to see their kids immersed in it — hit social media to express their frustration at the game’s disappearance, with tens of thousands of people responding to each of the messages posted by Roblox during the downtime.

Roblox describes its offering as “a platform where people from around the world come to play, learn, work, and socialize,” but for the last three days its users have had to go elsewhere for such activities.

The good news is that the company appears to have finally resolved the issue, allowing fans to start the new week with Roblox in full working order.

Want to find out more about Roblox and why it’s so popular with kids around the world? Digital Trends has you covered.

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Categories
AI

Report: 81% of online retailers increase AI budget to boost holiday sales

The nation’s online retailers, bullish on holiday sales but worried about supply chain disruptions, are increasing their investments in artificial intelligence systems to help manage operations and increase sales. The move will also help them compete with online giants like Amazon.

Eighty-five percent of retailers expect online sales to increase during the 2021 holiday shopping season, continuing an upward trend from the pandemic lockdowns of 2020, according to the 2021 eCommerce Outlook Report from Anodot and Researchscape. However, 42% of retailers remain concerned about the impact supply chain disruptions are likely to have on inventories and the timely delivery of their products.

Supply chain disruptions and labor shortages are affecting retailers around the globe, prompting many to launch their holiday sales early this year amid concerns that inventory won’t hold up for the duration of the season. Factory closings, a shortage of port workers and truck drivers, and a scarcity of key product components such as microchips have raised fears of short supplies and rising prices.

To help them stay competitive, retailers are turning to artificial intelligence, with 81% of the merchants in the survey saying they planned to increase their AI budgets this year. In addition to AI-enhanced protections such as fraud detection, retailers are looking to AI to help drive growth, with a third of respondents predicting that AI can increase revenues by 40%.

“Retailers need AI to create a flawless purchasing experience,” said David Drai, CEO and founder of Anodot, noting the mix of both uncertainty and optimistic holiday expectations. “Otherwise, shoppers will simply turn to the bigger retailing behemoths or the next online retailer to get their gifts.”

AI is becoming an essential tool in ecommerce, for uses such as making real-time recommendations, enabling targeted campaigns, and improving supply chain management. Online retailers said their top priorities this year are inventory, pricing, and website experience.

The survey was conducted during the month of September, and involved 106 respondents, 91% of whom identified themselves as being in the ecommerce industry.

Read the full report by Anodot and Researchscape.

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Categories
Game

Halo Xbox 360 games lose online service early next year

On the same day we received a new look at Halo Infinite‘s campaign comes news that 343 Industries has decided on a new date for the shutdown of online services in Halo titles for the Xbox 360. Originally slated for December of this year, 343 Industries has decided to move the shutdown into 2022, giving Xbox 360 players a little longer before online services disappear.

Unfortunately, those still playing Halo on Xbox 360 don’t have too much longer, as 343 Industries has now confirmed that it will be shutting down online services in Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach, Halo 4, Halo: Spartan Assault, and Halo Wars on January 13th, 2022.

The ability to play these games is not going away, though online services like matchmaking will no longer be supported in some cases. Essentially, if it requires the internet, that mode likely won’t be available after January 13th. You can have a look at the chart before for which services specifically are ending on January 13th:

The biggest change is unquestionably the end of online matchmaking for Halo: Reach, Halo 4, Halo 3: ODST, and Halo 3. Interestingly enough, Halo: Spartan Assault and Halo Wars will still keep their online matchmaking, making these the exception to the rule. Service records, challenges, file sharing, and player customization will also be going offline in a variety of games, so take note of that as well.

343 notes that these shutdowns apply to backward-compatible versions of these games played on Xbox One or Xbox Series X. It seems that if you want to continue playing online multiplayer in Halo 3, Reach, ODST, or Halo 4, you’ll need to pick up Halo: The Master Chief Collection on newer Xbox consoles. Halo Infinite, the latest game in the series, is due out on Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC, and Xbox Game Pass on December 8th, 2021.

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