The Download: April 19

This is The Download, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Bezos: Amazon Prime has over 100M members worldwide

Amazon Prime tractor-trailer

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos disclosed in the company’s annual shareholder letter that Prime has over 100 million members worldwide.

In 2017 alone, Amazon added more Prime members than any prior year and shipped over five billion items through the paid membership service worldwide.

Amazon also sold the most hardware devices it’s ever sold in 2017, according to Bezos, with “tens of millions” of Echo devices.

With regards to Whole Foods, Bezos said that the “technical work” is currently under way to bring Prime member benefits to the grocery chain.

Facebook rolls out new global privacy protections


Facebook is launching new privacy controls to all of its users in compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that comes into effect on May 25. The company will ask every user to review their privacy choices, from the information they add to their profile to how Facebook uses their data to target ads. The company is also announcing the return of facial recognition to Europe and Canada after the ruling seven years ago that Facebook’s photo-tagging system collected biometric data without proper user consent. The new controls will roll out to European users this week, according to a Facebook blog post, and will expand to all users globally afterward.

Under GDPR rules, companies are subject to penalties if they use or collect personal information without consent. European users will also see contact details for Facebook’s Data Protection Officer, which is a requirement under GDPR.

According to Facebook, users will be asked to review and choose whether or not they want Facebook to use data from partners (websites and apps that use Like buttons) to show ads.

Users in the EU and Canada will have the choice of opting in to Facebook’s facial recognition products. Alongside the benefit of seeing who’s posting photos of you, the company is positioning the feature to detect others attempting to use your image as their profile picture.

Facebook stressed that these features are entirely optional for users to enable.

Teens will also be getting protection here.

“Even where the law doesn’t require this, we’ll ask every teen if they want to see ads based on data from partners and whether they want to include personal information in their profiles.”

Facebook, in a blog post

People between the ages of 13 and 15 in some EU countries will need a parent or guardian’s permission to enable targeted ads or to add information like “interested in” to their profiles. According to Facebook, teenagers in this age bracket will see a “less personalized” version of the social network with limited sharing options until they get consent.

Facebook’s Settings and Privacy shortcuts introduced last month to comply with GDPR will also start showing up this week.

Amazon, Best Buy announce multi-year partnership to sell Toshiba, Insignia TVs with Fire TV built in


Amazon and Best Buy have announced a multi-year partnership to sell the next generation of TVs running Amazon’s Fire TV operating system to customers in the US and Canada. Best Buy will be the exclusive seller for over 10 4K and HD Fire TV Edition models made by Toshiba and Best Buy’s Insignia brand starting this summer.

The TVs will be available only in Best Buy stores, Best Buy’s website, and through Best Buy’s new store on Amazon.

“Amazon and Best Buy have a long history of working together, and today we take our partnership to a new level.”

Jeff Bezos; Amazon CEO, in a statement

As part of the deal, Insignia will stop making Roku-powered smart TVs, but Best Buy will continue to sell Roku TVs.

The first Fire TV Edition smart TV from Toshiba will be available in the US this summer, with more models coming later this year. Canada will also get the TVs later this year.

Microsoft Translator gets full offline support on Android & iOS


Microsoft Translator now has full offline support on Amazon Fire, Android, and iOS with a slightly modified neutral translation. iOS users may have to wait a few days, however, until Apple approves the update.

The updated language packs, which take up half the space of the old ones, are now available for Arabic, Simplified Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Thai, with more languages to follow.

This method is able to work on most modern phones without dedicated AI hardware.

“The gap between the neural offline translation and the previous translation quality with our older models is huge.”

Arul Menezes, Microsoft Research machine translation head

Microsoft is also making these offline capabilities available to other Android app developers who want to use them in their apps, letting them call the app in the background, get the translation, and then display it to their users. If you’re offline, it’ll use the offline translations and if you’re online, it’ll send the queries to Microsoft’s cloud.

YouTube CEO addresses demonetization, Partner Program concerns; company will pilot new video upload flow to decrease monetization icon changes


YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced in a blog post that the company will be launching a pilot program with a small group of users in an effort to address creators’ continued concerns about demonetization and other changes to the YouTube Partner Program.

Wojcicki acknowledged the frustrations of many YouTubers, calling the last two weeks since the shooting at the company’s San Bruno, CA headquarters “challenging” and affirming the company’s commitment to “communicate more with all of you. The post also trumpeted that “channels earning five figures annually grew more than 35 percent, while channels earning six figures annually grew more than 40 percent.”

In response to the recent changes to the Creator Program that require creators to have 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of video watch time within the last year, Wojcicki spoke to the overall health the changes provided to YouTube’s relationship with advertisers:

“While we know some creators found this change frustrating, it strengthened advertiser confidence, making monetization and the broader community on YouTube stronger for creators building their business on the platform.”

Susan Wojcicki; YouTube CEO, in a blog post

The post, which provides an update on YouTube’s priorities in 2018, says that the platform wants to provide more opportunities for creators to engage with fans and address abuse, calling the platform “an incredible force for good, particularly when it comes to education.”

Wojcicki also announced the imminent launch of a YouTube pilot program meant to address complaints about its upload algorithm that users claim have been incorrectly demonetizing ad-friendly videos. It’s launching with “a small set of creators to test a new video upload flow that will ask creators to provide specific information about what’s in their video as it relates to our advertiser-friendly guidelines.”

“In an ideal world, we’ll eventually get to a state where creators across the platform are able to accurately represent what’s in their videos so that their insights, combined with those of our algorithmic classifiers and human reviewers, will make the monetization process much smoother with fewer false positive demonetizations.”

Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO

In other news…

  • Snap is rolling out a new type of ad inside Snapchat’s camera, which are Direct response ads that drive people to complete a specific action, like an app download or a product purchase.
  • Apple has revealed Daisy, a recycling robot that disassembles iPhones, strips them of their reusable parts, and sorting out the refuse.
  • Sex worker social media space Switter went offline on April 17 after founding company Assembly Four received an email from the legal department of Cloudflare, their website host, saying that the company would be terminating its service due to terms of service violations.
  • Verizon has announced that parental controls product FamilyBase will be upgraded and renamed. The new app, Verizon Smart Family, will allow parents to manage aspects of their kids’ smartphones like content filters and screen time limits.
  • Github is launching a new bot-powered learning lab to help new developers learn everything they need to know about the code-hosting platform.

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