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Security

ProtonMail court order leads to the arrest of French climate activist

The private email service Protonmail is drawing harsh criticism from its users after providing IP information linked to a French activist who used the service, as first reported by TechCrunch.

The data was requested as part of a broader investigation into a group of climate activists who have occupied a number of apartments and commercial spaces in Paris. While the members of the group are anonymous, one had used the address “jmm18@protonmail.com” in online postings. As a result, French police sought to identify any persons linked to the account.

Because ProtonMail is based in Switzerland, it is not subject to French or EU requests. But the company is still subject to requests from Swiss courts, where French police were able to lodge their request with the help of Europol. After Swiss courts approved the order, ProtonMail began logging IP information on the account, which was subsequently handed over to French police, leading to the activist’s identification and arrest.

In a post titled “Important clarifications regarding arrest of climate activist,” Proton CEO Andy Yen said he shared concern over the prosecution, and gave further detail on the legal issues that had forced the company to provide the data.

“Proton received a legally binding order from Swiss authorities which we are obligated to comply with. There was no possibility to appeal this particular request,” Yen wrote in the post. “The prosecution in this particular case was very aggressive. Unfortunately, this is a pattern we have increasingly seen in recent years around the world.”

Crucially, the order did not provide the contents of the activist’s email, which are encrypted and cannot be accessed by Proton. Yen said a similar order would also not be able to provide ProtonVPN metadata, as VPNs are subject to different requirements under Swiss law.

Still, the arrest is alarming for many users of ProtonMail, who had expected the service to have more robust protections against legal identification. Yen pledged to update the service’s public documentation to “better clarify ProtonMail’s obligations in cases of criminal prosecution.”

Proton’s own transparency report shows the alarming growth of Swiss court orders, including those served on behalf of foreign investigations. In 2020, Proton complied with over 3,000 data orders from Swiss courts, more than double the number served in the previous year.

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Categories
AI

Google Assistant can now help order takeout from restaurants online

The pandemic has made ordering restaurant takeout a little less of a guilty pleasure, both because it’s safer and it helps support local businesses. Google is now trying to make the process faster, too, by having Google Assistant fill in contact information and payment details automatically on Android phones after you find a restaurant via Google Search.

To use the new feature, you have to search for whatever restaurant you’d like to order from in the Google app, then select the “Order Online” button on the restaurant’s information card. After making your food selections, you can tag in Google Assistant to complete the order using your stored contact and payment information from Google Pay and Chrome Autofill. Assistant then confirms you’re ready to pay, and the order is placed.

There are also some big limitations to be aware of: Google tells The Verge that Assistant will only be able to help with pickup orders for now, with deliveries coming at some point in the future. It also only works with restaurants Google has partnered with for online ordering, and it can only be initiated from the Google app on an Android phone. Google plans to add more restaurants in the US later this year.

Google claims Duplex is what powers this new takeout trick, which might seem unusual given the tech’s origins. Duplex was initially introduced as a way to automate making reservations and appointments over the phone, only to have the name later applied to automated form-filling for online car rentals and movie ticket purchases. As what Google says Duplex does has expanded, voice has become less central, but the basic theme is still that it’ll handle some busywork automatically for you.

All of these newer Duplex features have less immediate wow-factor than the original phone reservation demo, but could be more convenient: parsing and filling out online forms is an all too common online activity, especially when dealing with a restaurant you might only order from once. Having Assistant do the busywork makes sense — and is less creepy and confusing than a robotic phone call.

Google Assistant’s “find my phone” notification will even work with iPhone’s as long as notifications are enabled.
Image: Google

Google also has a couple of other new Assistant features coming in the near term: Smart home automated routines that can be set to trigger at sunrise or sunset, and there’s a more useful “find my phone” feature for Apple devices, too.

You’ve been able to ask a Google Home device to find find iPhones and iPads for a while now, but the feature didn’t work if the missing device was set to silent or didn’t have an internet connection. Now if you opt into receiving “notifications and critical alerts” from the Google Home app, Assistant can ring a missing Apple device even if it has Do Not Disturb turned on.

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Categories
Game

‘Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order’ free upgrade for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S is here

Without much advance notice from EA and Respawn, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S versions of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order are now available. If you bought the game on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, you’ll get a free upgrade to the current-gen version on the same console family (except in Japan). Newcomers can buy it for $40. 

One nice thing about this upgrade is that you’ll still receive it even if you bought a physical copy of Jedi: Fallen Order on Xbox One or PS4 and you have an Xbox Series S or digital-only PS5. You’ll need to contact EA and provide proof of purchase to get access to the new version. Not many publishers or developers have offered a similar free upgrade option until now.

The current-gen version of Jedi: Fallen Order includes higher-resolution assets and textures and 4K HDR resolution. You can expect much faster loading times and better 60 frames-per-second performance. EA and Respawn enabled 60 fps in January for those playing the last-gen version on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S through backwards compatibility. 

On PS5 and Xbox Series X, you can opt to run the game in performance mode at 1440p at 60 fps. With performance mode off, you can play in 4K at 30 fps. On Xbox Series S, performance is locked to 1080p at 60 fps.

Your save data should transfer automatically from the Xbox One version to the current-gen one. On PS5, you’ll need to transfer the data manually. Once you have the PS4 data on your system storage (from playing the PS4 version on PS5 or transferring it through cloud storage or a USB drive), you can select the Import PS4 System Save Data option. That’s annoying, but thankfully not overly complicated. If you do transfer your save to a current-gen system from the respective older one, you’ll unlock the Jedi: Fallen Order achievements and trophies you already earned.

Along with the upgrade, EA and Respawn announced that more than 20 million people have played Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order across all platforms and services. Along with consoles, it’s available on PC and Google Stadia.

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Categories
Game

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order launches on PS5 and Xbox Series X: How to upgrade

Back in January, Electronic Arts and Respawn Entertainment launched a patch for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which improved framerates and resolution for those who were playing on PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X|S. Today, the two companies released a full-fledged current-gen version of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which will be available as a standalone purchase for those who own a PS5 or Xbox Series X|S or as an upgrade for anyone who owns the game on PS4 and Xbox One.

While the upgrade that was released in January seemed to focus mostly on resolution and framerates, it seems that the PS5 and Xbox Series X release has a lot more to it. In a blog post to EA’s website today, those playing on Xbox Series X|S and PS5 can expect higher resolution textures and assets, 4K resolution with support for HDR, a framerate of 60fps, and “significantly faster loading times.”

If you already own the game on PS4 or Xbox One, you’ll be able to upgrade to this new version for free (assuming, of course, that you own a PS5 or an Xbox Series X|S, which are still difficult to find). This is true regardless of if you have a digital copy of the Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order or a physical disc. Both Sony and Microsoft have put together support articles on how to upgrade a game to a next-gen version, though on Xbox Series X, you should get the proper version for your console through Smart Delivery.

The only time upgrading gets a little complicated is when you own a physical copy of the game but own either a PlayStation 5 Digital Edition or an Xbox Series S, neither of which come with disc drives. In those instances, you’ll need to submit proof of purchase to EA through its support site. When you’re on that page, you’ll first select either PS5 or Xbox Series S, then select “Codes and promotions,” and then “Replace disc with code.” From there, fill out the form you’re presented with and provide your proof of purchase, and then you’ll be granted a digital code you can redeem on your new console.

Both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions come with a Performance Mode, which will cap resolution at 1440p but bring framerate up to 60fps. When Performance Mode is turned off, resolution will go up to 4K while framerate will drop to 30fps. On Xbox Series S, there is no Performance Mode option, as resolution and framerate are locked at 1080p60. Be sure to check out the blog post linked above for more on the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S versions of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which is available today for $39.99.

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Categories
Security

Biden signs executive order aiming to prevent future cybersecurity disasters

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday implementing new policies aimed to improve national cybersecurity. The executive order comes in the wake of a number of recent cybersecurity catastrophes, such as last week’s ransomware attack that took down the Colonial Pipeline, the Microsoft Exchange server vulnerabilities that may have affected north of 60,000 organizations, and the SolarWinds hack that compromised nine federal agencies late last year — each of which were specifically namedropped by the White House in a fact sheet accompanying the order.

The executive order outlines a number of initiatives, including reducing barriers to information sharing between the government and the private sector, mandating the deployment of multi-factor authentication in the federal government, establishing a Cybersecurity Safety Review Board modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board, and creating a standardized playbook for responding to “cyber incidents.” You can read more about all of the initiatives in the White House’s fact sheet here.

In the past few months, we’ve seen example after example of major IT systems breaking down, whether they allowed for a huge effort like the email server hack from the state-sponsored Chinese hacking group Hafnium (the White House promised a “whole of government response” to that one), a ransomware attack that forced public schools to cancel classes, or even a pair of breakdowns that appear to have allowed workers to remote into their local water supply and mess things up. The policies outlined in Wednesday’s executive order could create critical infrastructure to help prevent future cybersecurity disasters — or, at the very least, better limit any potential fallout.

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Categories
Tech News

Google Assistant can now help find your phone and order your takeout

Google is adding four new Assistant features, aiming to streamline how its AI interacts with the smart home, helps with takeout orders, and even helps hunt down a lost device. A new “Hey Google, find my phone” feature works with all Nest smart speakers and smart displays – including the most recent Nest Hub 2nd Generation – to track iPhones and Android devices.

After giving the command, you should hear the phone make a custom ringing sound. That’s even if you’ve got silent or Do Not Disturb mode enabled on the device, Google says. If you’re an Android user you’ll be able to get the location system straight away, while iOS users will need to allow notifications and critical alerts from the Google Home app.

It’s not the only new feature in that app, either: Google has rolled out its sunrise/sunset smart home Routines globally now. They’re based on location, so that the Routine runs according to the actual time that the sun rises or sets in that particular place, rather than being pinned to a fixed time. You can also add an offset in either direction, such as having the Routine start only 30 minutes after the sun sets.

For example, you could set up a new Routine to automatically close your motorized shades and turn on your Hue lights when it’s sunset. Or, at sunrise, you could automatically have the garden security lights switched off. There’s the option for multiple actions triggered with each Routine, and you can set which days of the week it repeats and whether you get a notification that the Routine ran on your phone.

Routines is one of those Google Home abilities that is surprisingly powerful, so it should perhaps come as no surprise in turn that figuring out just what can be done with the system might be overwhelming to new users. Google is adding a Ready-Made Routines page now in the Google Home app, with suggestions for popular actions. It’s also supporting adding Android home screen shortcuts for specific Routines that aren’t triggered automatically.

Finally, there’s more integration between Google Maps, Google Search, the Assistant, and Duplex. Google’s use of the Assistant to make calls to businesses and set up appointments and more has been broadening over the past year or so – we’re also expecting to hear more about the technology at Google I/O 2021 in a few months time – and now Duplex on the web is being combined with “Order” buttons for restaurant listings in Search and Maps business profiles.

On an Android device, you’ll be able to search for a restaurant, choose “Order Online” and then select what you want to eat; clicking “Check Out” will automatically fill in the necessary details, tap Google Pay for payment information, and finalize the order. Initially, Google says, it’ll be partnering with select restaurant chains for that, but to expect more partners across the US to be added later in the year.

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Categories
AI

How Intel and Burger King built an order recommendation system that preserves customer privacy

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The pandemic has placed enormous strains on the restaurant and fast food industries. Within a month of the health crisis, 3% of restaurants had closed for good and another 11% anticipated doing so within the following month, according to a National Restaurant Association study. While fine-dining and casual dining establishments suffered the bulk of the impact, the fast food industry wasn’t immune. A Datassential survey found that sales among fast food operators declined 42% during the first few weeks of the pandemic.

As more customers began relying on take-out and drive-thru options versus indoor dining, fast food retailers like Burger King turned to AI and machine learning for solutions. In collaboration with Intel, Burger King developed an AI system that recommends items on touchscreen menu boards to customers as they’re about to order. It can predict whether a customer will order a hot or cold drink or a light or large meal, potentially saving time and leading to a better customer experience.

Burger King and Intel say the solution has already been piloted in over 1,000 Burger King locations. 

Burger King isn’t the first fast food chain to experiment with AI in customer service. McDonald’s has been using AI in its drive-thrus since acquiring tech company Dynamic Yield in 2019. Dunkin’ Donuts is testing drive-thrus that can recognize a loyalty member as soon as they pull up. Some Sonic drive-ins recently got AI-powered menu kiosks. And Chick-fil-A is using AI to spot signs of foodborne illness from social media posts.

As Luyang Wang, director of advanced analytics and machine learning at Burger King, explained to VentureBeat via email, fast food recommendation has its own set of unique challenges. There’s no easy way to identify customers and retrieve their profiles because all of the recommendations happen offline. Moreover, context features like location, time, and weather conditions have to be preprocessed before they can be loaded into a model.

To solve these challenges, TxT was built with what’s called a “double” Transformer architecture that learns real-time order sequence data, as well as features like location, weather, and order behavior. TxT leverages all data points available in a restaurant without having to identify customers prior to the order-taking process. For example, if a customer puts a milkshake as the first item in their basket, that will influence what TxT suggests — based on what’s been sold in the past, what’s selling today, and what is sold at that location.

TxT was developed within Analytics Zoo, Intel’s open source platform for big data analytics workloads running in datacenters. Intel and Burger King collaborated to create an end-to-end recommendation pipeline, which includes distributed Apache Spark data processing and Apache MXNet training on an Intel Xeon cluster. The TxT model was deployed using Intel’s RayOnSpark library, which allows enterprises to directly run programs on existing clusters.

According to Wang, TxT has already led to surprising sales insights. For one, Burger King customers will order milkshakes in any weather — even when it’s cold out. And people are much more willing to add a dessert when they have a high-calorie basket versus a low-calorie basket.

“At Burger King, we are always looking to improve our guests’ experience,” Wang said. “This AI recommender system — Transformer Cross Transformer (TxT) — allows Burger King to better learn customer habits and, essentially, better communicate with guests.”

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Categories
Tech News

Lyft makes it easier to order rides for other people

If you have an elderly person in your life, the odds are high that you’ve had to order them a ride at some point. Doing so can be tricky, though not impossible, and now Lyft has made this an official feature. With the new option, users can maintain multiple people on their account and select the person the ride is for.

The newly launched feature is called Rides for Others, which is exactly what it sounds like. With this, users can tap the ‘Me’ button located at the top of the screen, then tap the ‘Add rider’ option to enter details for a different person. Once that’s done, you can enter the ride’s destination and order the car for that person.

Users who order someone else a ride will be able to take that ride using their own app. In order to use this feature, the rider must have their own Lyft account and will be able to access the ride details using their own phone. This feature has rolled out across the US.

In addition, Lyft is now piloting a new Family account option for customers in Washington, Oregon, and California. With this type of account, families of up to five people can all utilize the same account, making it easier to order rides, manage expenses, and monitor trips.

The Family account creator serves as the account admin; they can send invites to another four people who want to join the account. The admin gets receipts for rides that take place on the account, which uses the same payment method for everyone. It’s unclear when this feature will roll out in additional markets.

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