Tech Roundup: Meta 'ThreadsDeck,' U.K. DMCC Act & More

[A recurring feature on the latest in Science & Technology.]
  • The U.K. passes its own version of the E.U. Digital Markets Act (DMA) as the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers (DMCC) bill becomes law; aims to increase competition in digital markets, resolve consumer disputes and protect consumers from unfair commercial, subscription, prepayment and saving schemes.
  • OpenAI says it has begun training its next big model and that it's establishing a new safety and safety committee to develop safeguards against abuse of its technology and explore AI risks. (The development comes as OpenAI is increasingly signing licensing deals with various publishers to train its rapacious AI models and surface their editorial content in response to queries, not to mention protect it from future copyright liability. "The relationship between AI and the creative industries is already strained, with authors, artists and music publishers bringing lawsuits over copyright infringement," The Guardian reported recently.)
  • Google escalates its war on ad blockers in YouTube by disabling audio and skipping the video by default to the end when using ad blockers in web browers; updates "Data safety" section in Play Store app listings to directly point users to a link that can help users delete their accounts associated with those apps. (According to Google, the enforcement deadline for apps to enable this option is May 31, 2024.)
  • Microsoft updates Phone Link with options to select and copy text from images synced from Android devices.
  • Pro-Russian propaganda campaigns are increasingly leveraging Telegram's lax moderation rules to spread and amplify disinformation, according to a report from Bloomberg.
  • Mistral AI releases 22 billion-parameter Codestral, an "open-weight generative AI model explicitly designed for code generation tasks," that's trained on over 80 programming languages and prohibited for commercial use.
  • Google announces Fitbit Ace LTE, a smartwatch for kids ages 7 and above, with games, messaging, and features for parents like location sharing, for US$ 230;
  • Online payments platform PayPal announces plans for ad network that relies on customers' purchases and spending patterns to serve tailored ads on other websites, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • Microsoft debuts its Copilot AI tool as an in-app chatbot on Telegram to help users get answers to a wide range of questions.
  • Google says it will discontinue its Google Business Messaging, a chat feature that let customers reach out to businesses in Maps and Search, on July 31, 2024, as it urges companies to shift to alternative communication channels. (Or, there is always RCS Business Messaging!)
  • Google updates Chrome browser for Android with minimised custom tabs to allow user to open in-app web pages in picture-in-picture mode; adds new Android features, including options to edit sent messages in Google Messages up to 15 minutes after they are sent and a new Google Home widget.
  • Discord announces a "refreshed look and visual identity" with a focus on gaming; says it has 200 million monthly active users.
  • Meta adds new safety features to its misinformation tracking tool CrowdTangle for use during European Parliament elections in a bod to allay concerns following its decision to phase out the platform in March 2024.
  • Google says it's building better detection mechanisms for nonsensical queries to display AI Overviews in search results following reports that the new AI-powered summary feature is prone to errors and misleading answers; notes that "there's nothing quite like having millions of people using the feature with many novel searches."
  • Meta begins notifying users in the U.K. and the E.U. about its use of personal information shared on its platforms to power generative AI features and experiences effective June 26, 2024; gives users an option to opt-out of processing their data but only "if your objection is honoured."
  • Google unveils new built-in AI features for Chromebook Plus devices, including support for Gemini and a free subscription to Google One AI Premium for a year.
  • Apple, Google and Amazon push back against India's proposed Digital Competition Bill, citing concerns over increased user costs and potential reductions in investment.
  • Foreign-branded smartphone shipments in China, most of which are iPhones, rise 52% YoY to ~3.5M in April 2024, reflecting a significant rebound driven by aggressive price cuts (in some cases with discounts up to $318) and renewed consumer demand.
  • Meta's Instagram expands its Limits tool for teens to let them restrict unwanted interactions and limit comments, messages and story replies to Close Friends as its faces increased scrutiny over the safety of its young users; makes the Notes status feature interactive and begins rolling out multi-column customisable feeds for Threads on desktop web globally.
  • Google expands Playables in YouTube, a collection of over 75 free games available on mobile and desktop, to all users across the world after making it available to select users for testing before arriving for YouTube Premium subscribers last November.
  • Meta-owned WhatsApp tests a new feature that lets users generate AI-powered images in chat conversations, weeks after adding support for AI-generated profile photos; also pilots an Experiment mode for Reels on Instagram that displays a creator's reels to non-followers first.
  • AI search engine Perplexity launches Pages that takes AI-generated content creation information curation to the next level by researching and creating a customisable web page based on user prompts.
  • Jio Financial Services, part of Reliance, launches the JioFinance app to provide digital banking, UPI digital payments, loans and insurance in a crowded Indian market domainated by Google Pay and Walmart's PhonePe.
  • Google announces plans to invest US$ 2 billion in Malaysia to develop its first data centre and Google Cloud region in the country to meet growing computing needs in Southeast Asia.
  • Amazon extends partnership with Grubhub to let U.S. customers order food delivery inside Amazon's app through Grubhub and makes Grubhub+ a permanent Prime perk; introduces AI-powered enhanced search for Fire TV devices when using Alexa.
  • Music streamer Spotify initiates a refund process for its discontinued Car Thing dashboard device after consumers file a lawsuit claiming Spotify misled them by selling them a soon-to-be obsolete product and then not offering refunds.
  • OpenAI unveils ChatGPT Edu, an "affordable" version for universities, including GPT-4o access, custom GPT creation and higher message limits.
  • AMD, Broadcom, Cisco, Google, HPE, Intel, Meta and Microsoft form the Ultra Accelerator Link Promoter Group to promote an industry standard to connect AI accelerator server chips in an effort to break the dominance of market leader Nvidia.
  • PayPal makes its PayPal USD stablecoin, launched on Ethereum in August 2023 and issued by Paxos, available on the Solana blockchain.
  • Web browser maker Opera integrates Google's Gemini AI models into Aria AI extension; now allows users to "upload images to Aria in the sidebar chat, and ask questions about them."
  • Fintech company Stripe says it will temporarily move to an invite-only model for new account sign-ups in India, where it competes with Cashfree and Razorpay.
  • Global foldable phone shipments surge 49% YoY in Q1 2024, marking its highest rate of increase in six quarters; Huawei leads with a 35% share, overtaking Samsung, according to Counterpoint Research.
  • The European Commission designates Chinese online marketplace Temu as a "very large online platform" and says the company will have to comply with Digital Services Act (DSA) rules by the end of September 2024.
  • Google announces plans to disable extensions built with the older Manifest V2 framework on June 3, beginning with users of Chrome's Beta, Dev and Canary versions, as it transitions to the controversial Manifest V3 specification that it says has been created with the goal of "improving the security, privacy, performance, and trustworthiness of the extension ecosystem."
  • AI company Anthropic releases "tool use" for Claude, letting users create custom AI assistants; makes it available via Anthropic's Messages API, Amazon Bedrock and Google's Vertex AI.
  • Spain's data protection regulator AEPD bans Meta from launching election features on Facebook and Instagram in the country, citing data privacy concerns; says it is "necessary to adopt measures to prevent the collection of data, the profiling of users and the transfer of information to third parties, thus preventing personal data from being used by unknown controllers and for non-explicit purposes."
  • OpenAI's former board member Helen Toner says the board was kept in the dark about the release of ChatGPT in November 2022 and that they found about it on X (formerly Twitter), leading to short-term ouster of CEO Sam Altman late last year; says Altman made the board's job difficult by "withholding information, misrepresenting things that were happening at the company, in some cases outright lying to the board"; comes amid a Financial Times report that Microsoft pushed OpenAI to prioritise commercial products after the attempted coup against Sam Altman in November 2023, amplifying internal tensions at the company about AI safety.
  • Amazon-owned game streaming company Twitch disbands its Safety Advisory Council, which it formed in May 2020 to focus on trust and safety issues; says it's bringing in new council members to offer fresh, diverse perspectives.

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