The Download: Android gets pied

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

Android Pie available now on some Google Pixel phones without some key features

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Google has revealed that Android Pie is the name for Android 9.0, and pushed the latest source code to Android’s Open Source Project along with an over-the-air update for Pixel phones.

If you don’t have a Pixel phone, you may be waiting a while for an update that may never come. However, Google claims that owners of the Sony Xperia XZ2, Xiaomi Mi Max 2S, Nokia 7 Plus, Oppo R15 Pro, Vivo X21, OnePlus 6, Essential PH-1, and all qualifying Android One devices will have access to Pie “by the end of this fall.” All of the aforementioned handsets were included in the beta testing phase for P. Nexus devices will not be getting the update.

YouTube, Apple, Facebook, Spotify remove podcasts hosted by Alex Jones & Infowars

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After weeks of pressure, the tech industry collectively cracked down on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars media empire by removing swathes of content and/or terminating his accounts over the last 24 hours.

Apple removed a number of podcasts from the Podcasts app and iTunes because of hate speech.

“Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of all users. Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”

An Apple spokesperson, in a statement

Five of Infowars’ six podcasts were removed by Apple, including “The Alex Jones Show” and “War Room.” As of Tuesday, only “RealNews with David Knight” remains on the iTunes Store. 

Spotify completely removed the Alex Jones show, saying in a statement that they “take reports of hate content seriously and review any podcast episode or song that is flagged by our community.”

“Due to repeated violations of Spotify’s prohibited content policies, The Alex Jones Show has lost access to the Spotify platform.”

Spotify, in a statement

Facebook removed four pages run by Jones on similar grounds of violating the site’s policies against hate speech and bullying.

Visitors to the Alex Jones Channel page, Alex Jones page, Infowars page, and Infowars Nightly News page will now see a message that “this content isn’t available right now.”

In a blog post explaining the company’s decision, Facebook explained that Pages and the admin responsible for posting a piece of content that violates the company’s Community Standards receive a strike for each piece of content that violates that standards. The company didn’t say how many strikes are needed before a Page is unpublished to dissuade people from gaming the system.

Pages are unpublished to allow admins to appeal their case to Facebook, being removed if the admin fails the appeal or doesn’t appeal at all.

After removing four videos on the aforementioned Pages last week after reports, Facebook found more content from those same Pages that glorifies violence, violating the site’s graphic violence policy, and uses “dehumanizing language” to describe transgender people, Muslims, and immigrants, violating the site’s hate speech policies.

“While much of the discussion around Infowars has been related to false news, which is a serious issue that we are working to address by demoting links marked wrong by fact checkers and suggesting additional content, none of the violations that spurred today’s removals were related to this.”

Facebook, in a blog post

YouTube removed Jones’ account after circumventing a strike that he received on July 24 for showing videos that contained hate speech against Muslim and transgender people and footage of a child being shoved to the ground. Jones was banned from using his channel for live streaming for 90 days, but he continued to live stream on other platforms leading to the termination.

“When users violate these policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts.”

YouTube, in a statement

Jones called the terminations a “counter-strike against the global awakening” in a series of text messages to the Washington Post, accusing Apple and Google of colluding with the Chinese government, mainstream news organizations, the Democratic Party, and establishment Republicans to misrepresent his views and deprive him of platforms that let him spread his message. 

“We’ve seen a giant yellow journalism campaign with thousands and thousands of articles for weeks, for months misrepresenting what I’ve said and done to set the precedent to de-platform me before Big Tech and the Democratic Party as well as some Republican establishment types move against the First Amendment in this country as we know it.

“You’re on the wrong side of history mainstream media. You sold the country out, and now you’re going to pay for it.”

Alex Jones; Infowars founder, in text messages to the Washington Post

West Virginia introducing mobile phone voting in 2018 midterm elections, largely limited to troops serving abroad

West Virginians serving overseas will be the first in the country to cast federal election ballots using a mobile app.

“There is nobody that deserves the right to vote any more than the guys that are out there, and the women that are out there, putting their lives on the line for us.”

Mac Warner, West Virginia Secretary of State

This comes as the United States continues to grapple with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. However, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner and app developer Voatz insist that the app is secure. Anyone using it must register by taking a photo of their government-issued identification and a selfie-style video of their face, then upload it through the app. According to Voatz, its facial recognition software will ensure the photo and video show the same person. Once approved, voters will be able to cast their ballot.

Ballots are anonymized, according to the company, and recorded on the blockchain public digital ledger.

Voatz has been used for trial runs and private elections so far, such as balloting for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Officials tested Voatz in two counties during the primary election earlier this year with financial backing from Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies. According to Warner’s office, four audits of various components of the tool including its cloud and blockchain infrastructure revealed no problems.

However, Warner’s deputy chief of staff Michael Queen told CNN that officials in each county will be able to make the final decision on using the app in November.

Warner isn’t calling for the replacement of traditional paper ballots with Voatz, and troops will still have the option to cast a paper ballot. However Voatz co-founder and CEO Nimit Sawhney sees this move as a springboard to broader use of the blockchain technology.

However, this system has its share of naysayers.

“Mobile voting is a horrific idea. It’s internet voting on people’s horribly secured devices, over our horrific networks, to servers that are very difficulty to secure without a physical paper record of the vote.”

Joseph Lorenzo Hall; Center for Democracy & Technology chief technologist, in an email to CNN

Even if the Voatz app is secure, election integrity watchdog group Verified Voting president Marian Schneider said that the attack area is “much broader” under mobile voting. That creates more opportunities for hacking and meddling. Schneider also worries about electronic votes’ lack of a paper trail that could cause “undetectable changes” in transit.

MIT political science professor Charles Stewart III doesn’t consider mobile voting as a technology that’s ready for primetime, but credited West Virginia for being “the bold ones” testing the waters.

“There is something to be said sometimes for small scale pilots where we can learn the trade-offs.”

Charles Stewart III, MIT political science professor

Microsoft rebukes decision to end support for “classic” Skype 7.0 in September after user pushback

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Microsoft announced in a forum post that Skype 7.0 will continue working after the previously announced September timeframe for ending support. A new timeline wasn’t provided, but the post will be updated with more information in the future.

“Based on customer feedback, we are extending support for Skype 7 (Skype classic) for some time. Our customers can continue to use Skype classic until then.”

Microsoft’s Skype team, in a forum post

Fossil announces Q Venture HR, Q Explorist HR Wear OS watches with Google Play, heart-rate tracking, GPS

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Fossil has announced the fourth generation of its Q series of smartwatches, adding features like a heart-rate sensor and standalone GPS.

The Q Venture HR and Q Explorist HR range in price between $255 and $275 depending on your band and color preference. They’re available now on Fossil’s website. The Q Venture HR has a 40mm stainless steel casing, and the Explorist has a larger 45mm case.

Fossil is sticking with the aging Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor that’s been used in smartwatches for two years now unfortunately. 

In other news…

  • Data revealed by Airbnb shows that bookings made through its Airbnb for Work program tripled between 2016 and 2017 – similar to the increase found in the year before that. The company also revealed that 700,000 companies are now using the service, up from the 250,000 reported last April – including new clients like Gap and Twitter.
  • Amazon is rolling out a new feature called “Answer Update” to Alexa device users over the next week that notifies users when Alexa learns the answer to a question the assistant didn’t know when first asked.
  • Cloud-based communications provider Twilio reported second quarter earnings with a net loss of $24 million ($0.25/share)
  • Facebook spokesperson Elisabeth Diana refuted the Wall Street Journal’s report that it was asking banks for customers’ credit card transaction data in the interest of building a dedicated banking feature where you could interact with your bank accounts.
  • The Pentagon is banning deployed personnel from using fitness trackers, smartphones, and other tools that use geolocation to reveal a user’s location.
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