This is The Download, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.
Twitter will begin curating dedicated event pages that are promoted across notifications, Explore, more
Twitter wants to make it easier for you to see the latest about events and topics you care about through push notifications that will be sent to your phone based on your interests, including who you follow and what you tweet about.
It’s a feature designed for Twitter to proactively keep you in the know on what’s happening now, with the hope being that it’ll make you spend more time in the app. The company says that it’ll be extra conscious to not flood your device with notifications that aren’t valuable to you. And, you can turn off these notifications altogether if you want by going to your recommendation setting.
In addition, Twitter is making changes to Moments (more on that in a bit) and the Explore tab, which will now let you navigate by topic (like entertainment, music, sports, and technology) rather than content type.
Similarly, Twitter’s “Happening Now” feature, which groups tweets about ongoing events on the top of your timeline, has also been tweaked to show you breaking and personalized news. Once you’re browsing that section, you’ll see tweets with text, images, and video related to whatever is taking place at that moment.
Also with the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicking off tomorrow, Twitter is rolling out a dedicated tournament hub and individual pages for all 64 games. If you search for “World Cup,” you’ll get tweets, scores, videos, and Moments about every match. Soccer fans will see this pop up at the top of their timeline, so they’ll have easy access to the news from the tournament. Here in the US, Twitter will offer highlights and a show called FIFA World Cup Now that’ll stream live from Russia during the tournament in collaboration with Fox Sports.
According to Twitter senior director of product management Sriram Krishnan, the goal is for people to use these features to engage in “momentous” conversations in real time about anything major that may be taking place around the world.
“At the heart of it, Twitter is about what is happening right now.”
Sriram Krishnan; Twitter senior director of product management, to Engadget
Also, Krishnan said that it’s extremely important for every user to have complete control of their Twitter experience. That’s why you have the option of opting out of the new notifications.
Aside from the World Cup hub, the rest of these changes will be coming to Twitter’s iOS and Android apps in the coming weeks and months.
Moments go vertical
Speaking of Moments, Twitter is switching up the orientation for the feature that brings tweets and information about a topic together to vertical. The new orientation is rolling out now.
US Moments will also start featuring multiple timelines. Some Moments featuring news and events will have a recap timeline in addition to a timeline of the latest updates and commentary. Any live video that might be available will be placed at the top of a Moment, a feature that’ll especially be useful for live news and the World Cup.
“We’re giving you one place where you can catch up with all of this. It’s a great place to experience the live video at the top of the page, and we’ll be making sure that if there’s anything relevant to that event going on in live video, you’ll be able to see it.”
Joanna Geary; Twitter director of curation, to Engadget
According to Geary, this is being done so users can catch up on an event easily and then jump into the ongoing conversation quickly.
“Say, if you were looking at the cup of something, at a soccer game, we didn’t make it that easy for you to come out of that Moment into the live conversation to see where it’s going. That’s one of the things that we’ve changed and that we’re changing, so that you can have both the live conversation and that Moments recap in the same place. Once you’re up to speed, you can get straight into seeing what everyone else is saying about this.”
Microsoft announces Office suite redesign, rolling out over coming months
Microsoft is migrating its Fluent Design system from Windows 10 to its Office apps to simplify them for the billion Office users. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook will soon have a simplified ribbon that’s smaller and easier to use with new animations, accessible-designed icons, and subtle color changes to modernize Office’s look and feel. These changes will roll out to the desktop and web versions.
The web version of Office has been re-built on a modern platform to run faster than it did before. The simplified ribbon can also be expanded to the larger, more classic version. Office on the web will also now include avatars for comments and dedicated colors for participants who are viewing and editing the same document, like in Google’s G Suite.
“Office is used by more than a billion people every month, so while we’re excited about these changes, we also recognize how important it is to get things right. Over the next several months we will deploy new designs to select customers in stages and carefully test and learn.”
Jared Spataro, Microsoft Office corporate vice president
Microsoft is testing the simplified ribbon first with the web version of Word now on Office.com, before Outlook for Windows users get it in July. Outlook on the web is also getting a new search experience that anticipates contacts, revisiting searches, or upcoming meetings. According to Microsoft, it’s taking its time with a simplified ribbon for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on Windows as users have a lot more muscle memory with those versions. However, when it arrives you’ll still be able to use the classic ribbon. The new colors and icons will also appear on Office.com first before heading to Outlook for Windows in July and Outlook for Mac in August.
WSJ: China wants to track citizens cars with mandatory RFID chips
According to the Wall Street Journal, China’s Ministry of Public Safety readying a program to track citizens’ cars using RFID chips. The program will be voluntary at first starting on July 1, but mandatory for new vehicles in 2019.
By installing RFID chips on the windshields of new cars, and reading devices on the side of China’s roads, government officials hope to be able to study and improve congestion that’ll help reduce pollution. According to documents obtained by the WSJ, they also hope to use it to help stem the rise of vehicular terrorism.
The system wouldn’t be able to locate a car at any given moment or location, and it isn’t clear what information would be stored on each chip beyond the car’s color and license plate number.
Mexico is working on implementing a similar system, and countries like India, South Africa, Brazil, and Dubai use RFID chips for everything from paying for gas, parking, and tolls to issuing tickets and collecting penalties.
“The Chinese government has gone all out to create a real surveillance state. [There’s] social credit, and facial recognition, and internet and telecom monitoring. It’s part of this larger effort to create total information awareness in China for the government.”
James Andrew Lewis; Center for Strategic and International Studies senior vice president, to The Verge
The RFID system would slot in alongside several surveillance programs that are already in place. For instance, China already recognizes and tracks license plates with security checkpoint cameras in some regions. Facial recognition is common with mounted cameras or smart glasses. The government has also been rolling out a “social credit” system, where citizens are rated by their finances, criminal behavior, and other factors. It also blocks many internet-dependent apps and services and surveils its citizens on the ones that the government controls. Shops are forced to use government-approved routers and free speech has been restricted in a few ways, like the recent move to ban video parodies.
According to Lewis, the RFID system is “just another step for this kind of overarching control. [Any] positive benefits are outweighed by the intrusiveness of the whole thing.”
Opendoor raises $325M Series E at $2B valuation led by General Atlantic, Access Technology Ventures
Opendoor, a start-up that buys and sells homes online, has pulled in $325 million to expand its team, add more cities, and move deeper into residential real estate.
The new funding pushed the San Francisco-based company’s valuation over $2 billion and includes capital from homebuilder Lennar, whose COO Jon Jaffe will be joining the company’s board.
Opendoor aims to help homeowners sell their property quicker by offering to buy it from them. The company uses a bevy of market data and software tools to understand how much it can make by buying, fixing up, listing, and selling homes.
The company has now raised a total of about $645 million in equity and hundreds of millions more in debt.
They provide virtual tours of homes on its mobile app and physical open houses. According to Opendoor, the company purchases about $2.5 billion worth of homes annually, up over 225 percent from a year earlier, and has properties in 10 US cities with plans to expand to 40 more by 2020.
General Atlantic and Access Technology Ventures led the round along with Lennar. Andreessen Horowitz, Coatue Management, Travis Kalanick’s 10100 Fund, and property owner Invitation Homes also invested in the round, joining existing investors Norwest Venture Partners, GGV Capital, and Khosla Ventures.
Opendoor plans to use the capital to grow from a team of around 650 to nearly double that in the next year. It’s investing in technology to expand and scale its suite of services, like mortgages, titles, closing support, and eventually warranty and home customization.
The company is also bolstering its Trade Up program, which lets customers purchase new homes from builders after selling to Opendoor.
Didi Chuxing: Drivers can’t pick up passengers of opposite sex in early morning, late evening
According to Reuters, Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing will limit drivers to only pick up passengers of the same gender between 5 and 6 am and 10pm and midnight. The move comes as the company works to rebuild its image after a female passenger was murdered last month.
Didi will expand its service hours from between 6 am and 10 pm to 5am-midnight.
The ride-hailing company is also planning on testing an “escort mode” on its app beginning June 22 that will let passengers share their routes with emergency contacts.
According to a Didi spokesperson, the company is gathering feedback from riders, drivers, and other members of the Chinese public on other potential safety initiatives.
“The use of same-sex drivers during certain hours on the Hitch social carpooling service is one of a few experiments Didi is testing and further exploring with users. We want to ensure the Hitch service is brought back in a safe and responsible way and that users understand the challenges involved.”
A Didi spokesperson
Garmin launches Vivoactive 3 Music smartwatch
Garmin has launched an updated version of the Vivoactive 3 smartwatch called the Vivoactive 3 Music.
The $299 Vivoactive 3 Music has all the features from the original Vivoactive 3 including fitness tracking, GPS navigation, and NFC payments with space for roughly 500 songs. It also has Garmin’s new sleep-monitoring technology, which uses heart-rate variability (among other data points) to more accurately determine sleep stages throughout the night.
Garmin added a glass-like bezel around the touchscreen that’s contained in a seamless black case.
The smartwatch supports songs downloaded from your PC with Garmin Express or from supported streaming services (which currently are iHeartRadio and Deezer).
MoviePass surpasses 3M subscribers, expects to hit 5M by end of the year
MoviePass has surpassed three million paid subscribers for its movie ticket subscription service.
However, growth has slowed. It took 18 weeks for the service to reach three million users compared to the seven weeks it took MoviePass to go from 1 million to 2 million paid subscribers.
The company boasts over five percent of all US box office receipts.
Eyeo launches Trusted News Chrome extension to help users identify fake news
Eyeo, the company behind the browser-based ad block platform Adblock Plus, has launched Trusted News – a Chrome extension that helps users spot sources of fake news online.
The extension, which only works for English language content, “democratically scores the integrity and trustworthiness of online news sources.”
After being added to Chrome, the extension displays a small green checkmark against its icon if a news source is deemed trustworthy, or you might see an orange “B” for bias. The extension can also deploy flags for untrustworthy, satire, clickbait, user-generated content, malicious, or unknown – if the site hasn’t been classified.
It’s not clear how many sites have been classified via the system at this stage.
According to Eyeo, they are leaning on four third-party fact-checking organizations to generate its classifications: PolitiFact, Snopes, Wikipedia, and Zimdars’ List.
“For now, the way that it works is that you have these sources… and what they will do is essentially give their rating on a particular site and then, basically, if everything isn’t all the same – which they usually are – then you would just go by the majority.”
Ben Williams, Eyeo director of ecosystems
However, the plan is to evolve this approach with user feedback and blockchain technology. Eyeo has been working with MetaCert Protocol’s anti-fraud URL registry to maintain the project’s database.
That database will be decentralized by moving it to the Ethereum blockchain – with a new protocol and built-in game mechanics to reward submissions. MetaCert tokens will also be issued to track rewards and mitigate the risk of bad actors spoiling the quality of the data.
“What we want to do, and where the blockchain comes in, is we want to move that over to incorporate users’ feedback as well. So initially what we’re going to do in a few weeks is incorporate something where users can just provide feedback through the extension. And they can dispute something. They can say ‘hey I don’t feel like this site should be listed as biased because whatever.’ And we’re going to use that feedback to make the product better.
“And then the next step is to decouple that from any server, and from any third party, and give it directly to the blockchain. So that that feedback can live on its own in that place and so that good feedback can be prized and rewarded among users, and people who are providing bad feedback won’t be. So that is the next step.”
Another future step is to add more “fine-grained detail” like saying which way on the political spectrum a biased news source swings, for example and easier ways for people to comment on those ratings.
“This is a first, humble attempt – this is a beta – we want to see how this goes. We want people to give us honest feedback on it. And we want to improve upon that. So, it’s not merely a matter of where the labels are. But also, is this what people want? We think it’s a good idea but it is, again, just a start.”
According to Williams, Eyeo is testing the waters at this stage to see whether the approach will be something web users find useful.
The company doesn’t intend to monetize the extension in any shape or form.
In terms of privacy, Eyeo says that the Trusted News extension updates its own internal database daily so users’ browsing activity “never touches a central server.”
“In weeks to months or so we should definitely be able to move everything over to the blockchain so it’s all not too far away. I think that the bigger question down the line for us – not months, but maybe a year or so – is if there is demand. If people like it. Again. If people are happy with the beta product then how do we or should we move to mobile? That would be the next really big question.”
Support is planned for other browsers if the extension finds an audience.