Facebook will now pay you for your voice recordings

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook will offer to pay some users for voice recordings that will be used to help improve its speech recognition technology, the company announced Thursday. The move comes after Facebook — as well as Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft — was caught listening to and transcribing voice recordings to improve speech recognition systems without informing customers it was doing so.

Facebook will let you make voice recordings as part of a new program called “Pronunciations” in its Viewpoints market research app. If you qualify to be part of the program, Facebook says you’ll be able to record the phrase “Hey Portal” followed by the first name of a friend from your friends list. You’ll be able to do this with the names of up to 10 friends,…

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Apple’s epic patent troll fight drags on as appeals court strikes down latest request

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A US appeals court has rejected a request from Apple to reconsider a split decision ruling that found it infringed on patents owned by notorious patent troll VirnetX, Reuters reports. It’s the latest step in a convoluted multiyear legal battle between the two companies that dates back to 2010.

In April 2018, a federal court in Texas ordered Apple to pay $502.6 million to VirnetX for violating four patents relating to internet-based communications, which, in this case, mostly means the underlying technology behind Apple products like FaceTime and iMessage. Apple and VirnetX, a patent-assertion entity that makes money by suing other companies, are also engaged in a number of related patent infringement suits, although this one is the most…

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Apple’s contract for indie repair shops is so invasive that some refuse to sign it

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Last August, Apple announced it would let more indie repair shops buy genuine iPhone parts and tools so they could do common iPhone repairs. It seemed like an exception to Apple’s tight restrictions around who it deems worthy of repairing your phone. But it sounds like Apple drew up a contract so draconian that some shops are refusing to sign it, making us wonder whether Apple meant to assist the repair industry at all.

Vice obtained a copy of the contract, and the terms sound extremely invasive. Apple can apparently do unannounced audits and inspections of a repair shop at any time to make sure it isn’t using knockoff repair parts, for example. And if Apple finds that a shop used knockoff parts in more than two percent of its…

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Amazon is helping brands build custom text-to-speech voices for their Alexa skills

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Amazon announced today that it will now work with brands to help them make custom text-to-speech voices for their Alexa skills. Imagine, for example, that you’re ordering KFC using KFC’s Alexa skill, but instead of the default Alexa voice replying to you, it’s Colonel Sanders himself. That’s what Amazon’s going for here, and it’s something that Amazon and KFC actually developed.

The brand voices are offered through Amazon Polly, an Alexa service that previously supplied neural network-based text-to-speech services for companies to use to add realistic voices to their Alexa skills. Now, though, Amazon is offering its neutral network-based TTS technology to create custom voices for a specific brand based on recordings of voices of an actor…

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Traffic jams in Google Maps could be spoofed with 99 phones and a little red wagon

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Image: Simon Weckert

Seeing traffic jams in Google Maps can really help you plan your route home from work. But a video posted this weekend seems to show that a traffic jam could be spoofed into Google Maps with nothing more than a bunch of phones piled into a little red wagon.

In the video, posted by Simon Weckert, a Berlin-based artist who focuses on examining the value and impact of technology, a man walks down some city streets pulling a wagon with 99 smartphones that all have Google Maps’ navigation turned on. As the man pulls the wagon, the streets get progressively redder on Google Maps. Those red streets would typically indicate a bad traffic jam — but the video shows that the streets were nearly empty.

Usually, Google determines where traffic jams…

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Facebook to pay $550 million to settle privacy lawsuit over facial recognition tech

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook says it has agreed to pay $550 million to settle a class-action lawsuit regarding its use of facial recognition technology. The news, reported first this evening by The New York Times, was part of a disclosure the company made as part of its fourth quarter earnings report today.

The case against Facebook has been going on since 2015. The lawsuit alleged that Facebook’s initial version of the its Tag Suggestions tool, which scans a user’s face in photos and offers suggestions about who that person might be, stored biometric data without user consent, violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.

In 2018, Facebook began more transparently explaining its…

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Hackers hijacked nearly half of the NFL’s Twitter accounts

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NFL logo

The social media accounts of several NFL teams and one belonging to the NFL were hacked, the NFL said in a statement today. Nearly half of the teams in the league had their Twitter accounts hacked on Sunday and Monday, and the hacker group OurMine has taken responsibility for the hacks, according to the BBC.

Many of the hacked tweets promoted OurMine, announcing that the hacking collective is “back” and that “everything is hackable.” NFL reporter Dov Kleiman collected many screenshots of the hacked pages in this Twitter thread.

The BBC reports that Facebook and Instagram…

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Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend shared compromising texts with her brother, who sold them, WSJ reports

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INDIA-ENTERTAINMENT-CINEMA-BOLLYWOODPhoto by SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP via Getty Images

New York prosecutors have evidence suggesting that Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, shared compromising texts about her affair with Bezos to her brother, Michael Sanchez, The Wall Street Journal reports. Michael then reportedly sold those photos to the National Enquirer, which then published a story about Lauren and Bezos’ affair last January. The WSJ says its reporters have seen the texts themselves.

Bezos’ affair returned to the limelight this week when The Guardian reported that it was “highly probable” that Saudi Arabia hacked Jeff Bezos’ phone in May 2018. According to this theory, Bezos’ phone was compromised when he received a WhatsApp message with a malicious video file from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin…

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Teeth aligning company SmileDirectClub is using NDAs to stifle bad reviews online

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Image: SmileDirectClub

SmileDirectClub, a Warby Parker-style company that sells 3D-printed teeth aligners online that are typically cheaper than braces, has asked some customers dissatisfied with the product to sign extremely restrictive nondisclosure agreements that stifle them from saying anything negative about the company, according to a report from The New York Times published on Wednesday.

An excerpt of a SmileDirectClub NDA included in the NYT’s story said that the person signing “will not make, publish, or communicate any statements or opinions that would disparage, create a negative impression of, or in any way be harmful to the business or business reputation of SDC or its affiliates or their respective employees, officers, directors, products, or…

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