Author: Natasha Lomas

Apollo Box is applying AR to drive lifestyle ecommerce

What is augmented reality good for? Product visualization to encourage online shopping, reckons Santa Clara-based startup Apollo Box, which launched an online marketplace for an eclectic selection of lifestyle products almost a year ago — before spicing up the ecommerce experience with an AR feature called ‘Teleport’. It’s been testing AR on its marketplace since last October with a subset of products but is now opening up the technology to any brands selling via its platform. The gift-focused marketplace has around 500,000 active users at this point, and an inventory of around 1,200 products from circa 450 vendors. Items range from jewelry and apparel, to ornaments and toys, to gadgets and more. Since starting the augmented reality beta, the startup has sold 1,105 items involving the use of AR — or about 8.5% of all sales during the period, according to co-founder Will Li — and is crediting the tech with a 25% conversion rate boost. Just 65 products are currently available on the marketplace for viewing in AR — about 5% of its total inventory — but Li is expecting this to step up substantially now they’re opening the tech to all their vendors. “We believe more brands will work with us after this public launch, and we hope to reach 25% of our growing inventory in the next six months,” he says. To enable products to be viewable on Apollo’s marketplace in AR, vendors send product images or models and...

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Social media firms given a month to fix consumer rights issues in Europe

Facebook, Twitter and Google are under more pressure in Europe to comply with regional rules. The latest issue they find themselves on the hook for relates to complaints pertaining to a variety of consumer rights that have been investigated by EU regulators since last year. EU consumer authorities have been specifically looking into complaints about unfair terms and conditions, and looking for ways to tackle fraud and scams that mislead consumers when they are using the social networks — such as fake promotions to ‘win a smartphone for €1’ that also sign the user up to a hidden long term subscription for hundreds of euros. Last November the three social media firms were sent letters by the EU regulators asking them to address the areas of concern. That was followed, earlier this month, by a meeting between the companies, regulators and the European Commission to discuss proposed solutions. The companies have now been given a month to come up with fixes. If their proposals fail to pass muster they could face enforcement action in future, the EC said today. Contacted for a response all three declined to comment, saying they have nothing to share at this stage. A variety of EU rules are involved in the matter, including the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, the E-commerce Directive, the Consumer Rights Directive or the unfair contract terms Directive. The latter directive, for example, can invalidate standard terms & conditions if they create...

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Tilt gesture keyboard could hold promise for typing in VR

Keyboard nerds like me could become a dying breed if the voice-controlled future accelerates at us quite as quickly as companies like Alexa-owning Amazon hope. But in the interim, with screens still loitering in the orbits of our fingertips, texting remains the done thing (well, not counting kids who prefer recording voice messages to send to each others’ messaging apps — I know, I know, path of least resistance and all that…). Meanwhile, there are more types and growing numbers of computing devices in play than ever before, from wearables to VR headsets, so interface researchers are finding additional reasons to optimize keyboard-based usability kinks. To wit: a group of researchers, led by postgraduate student Hui-Shyong Yeo at the University of St Andrews, has come up with a tilt-based typing technique designed — at first glance — to be an alternative for users of larger smartphones (phablets) or tablets; to enable one-handed typing, i.e. when your palm won’t easily stretch across the full span of glass. And many a cracked smartphone screen can surely be blamed on an unfortunate typing accident. The researchers have called their tilt-based entry keyboard SWiM for short: aka ‘Shape Writing in Motion’. The core text entry technique is akin to gesture-based keyboards like Swype, where users use fingers to trace patterns over the keys to spell out words. (Indeed, they utilized Swype’s interface for this portion of the tech.) But the twist is SWiM users tilt the device with their dominant wrist to form the shades needed to form the...

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UK watchdog “close” to verdict in DeepMind Health data consent probe

The UK’s data protection watchdog has said it’s “close” to concluding a 10-month+ investigation into consent complaints pertaining to a patient data-sharing agreement inked between Google-owned DeepMind and the Royal Free NHS Trust which operates three hospitals in London. The ICO began its probe in May last year — after details emerged, via an FOI request made by New Scientist, of the large quantity and scope of patient identifiable data being shared with DeepMind by the Trust. The arrangement, inked in fall 2015, had been publicly announced in February 2016 but details of which and how much patient data was involved in the arrangement were not shared. Contacted for an update on the investigation today, an ICO spokesperson told TechCrunch: “Our investigation into the sharing of patient information between the Royal Free NHS Trust and Deep Mind is close to conclusion.” Under the DeepMind-Royal Free arrangement, the Google-owned AI company agreed to build an app wrapper for an NHS algorithm designed to alert to the risk of a person developing acute kidney injury. Patient data for the Streams app was obtained without patient consent, with DeepMind and the Trust arguing it is unnecessary as the app is used for ‘direct patient care’ — a position that has been challenged by critics, and is being reviewed by regulators. The ICO spokesperson added: “We continue to work with the National Data Guardian and have been in regular contact with the Royal Free and DeepMind who have provided information about the development of the Streams...

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Photo-blending app Dubble is back from the dead

“I have no idea why I stuck at it,” says Adam Scott, co-founder of photo blending app Dubble, which is officially (re)launching today, in an overhauled v2, following a year-long hiatus off the app store while the team re-engineered the backend and applied some gloss and community-requested features to the front. The original MVP of Dubble launched on iOS all the way back in fall 2013 — at a time when Frontback was still splicing up people’s selfies. When I tested it out then Dubble-blended photos felt organic and interesting (I still use one of its serendipitously dreamy hybrid cityscapes for the header on my Twitter profile), but the app was also rough round the edges, slow to process images and saddled with a clunky UI. Since that debut, faddish photo-sharing community Frontback has failed to go the distance, though selfie-taking and photo sharing of course persist. Photo filtering trends also continue to evolve — they now include, for example, AI-powered style transfer apps, like Prisma, which can turn a boring snap into a mock work of art at the push of a button. So will there still be much of an appetite for manually blending photos with other people’s selfies and snaps to co-create and share digital double exposures? Frankly, Scott doesn’t seem entirely sure. But he says he’s hopeful there’s a niche yet engaged community to be created here — and a sustainable one, given the reach of smartphone apps. “Within a year I would like to hit maybe 20,000...

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DoJ accuses two Russian spies and two criminals of 2014 Yahoo hack

The U.S. Department of Justice has confirmed earlier reports and accused two Russian FSB officers and two criminal hackers of being behind the hacking of at least 500 million Yahoo accounts — saying the conspiracy to exploit illegal access and stolen data began at least as early as January 2014, with info garnered via the intrusion continuing to be utilized by the group at least until December 2016. In a press release announcing the indictment of the four defendants, the DoJ accuses them of using unauthorized access to Yahoo’s systems to steal information from “about at least 500 million Yahoo accounts” and then using some of the stolen information to obtain unauthorized access to the contents of accounts at Yahoo, Google and other webmail providers — including the accounts of Russian journalists, U.S. and Russian government officials and private-sector employees of financial, transportation and other companies. One of the defendants is also accused of exploiting his access to Yahoo’s network for personal financial gain — by searching Yahoo user communications for credit card and gift card account numbers, redirecting a subset of Yahoo search engine web traffic so he could make commissions and enabling the theft of the contacts of at least 30 million Yahoo accounts to facilitate a spam campaign. The four defendants are identified as: Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev, 33, a Russian national and resident; and at the time of the hack an officer in the...

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