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Update November 2016


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Update November 26, 2016

Zuckerberg: ‘Crazy’ to say Facebook influenced election

In an interview Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, with “The Facebook Effect” author David Kirkpatrick, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the idea that Facebook influenced the outcome of the U.S. election is a “crazy idea.” (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Barbara Ortutay

New York (AP) - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the idea that fake news spread on Facebook influenced the outcome of the U.S. election is “crazy.”

Still, the majority of Americans (six in 10) say they get at least some news from social media, mostly Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center. While a lot of this news comes from established outlets - whether CNN or BuzzFeed News, misinformation spreads on Facebook just as information does, shared by users, recommended by software and amplified by both.

Sources of spurious information have ranged from news articles produced by “content farms” for the sole purpose of getting clicks, to “hyperpartisan” sites from both sides of the political spectrum, churning out stories that are misleading at best.

Case in point: “FBI AGENT SUSPECTED IN HILLARY EMAIL LEAKS FOUND DEAD IN APPARENT MURDER-SUICIDE” - a fabricated headline from a fake news site called the Denver Guardian, was shared thousands of times in the days leading up to the election.

Is it possible that voters were swayed for or against a candidate, much like those same people might buy a product after seeing an ad on Facebook?

Zuckerberg says voters deserve more credit.

During an interview Thursday with “The Facebook Effect” author David Kirkpatrick, Zuckerberg said idea that people voted the way they did because of bogus information on Facebook shows a “profound lack of empathy” for supporters of Donald Trump.

“Voters make decisions based on their lived experience,” he said.

Given the acerbic political contest from which the country just emerged, when countless longtime friends, even family, were unfriended, many are left to wonder if there would be an alternative American history being written today if it were not for Facebook, Twitter and the like.

This, after all, was the first truly social media election, playing out on Twitter and Facebook as much or more than it did on major networks, in living rooms and around water coolers.

But isn’t social media just a reflection of our world as it exists? Has Facebook become an easy scapegoat when the answer is far more complex?

While Pew found that many believe political discussions on social media to be “uniquely angry and disrespectful,” a comparable number have the same impression of face-to-face conversations when it comes to Democrats, the GOP, or another party.

Filter Bubble?

When it comes to Facebook users, Zuckerberg said almost everyone has friends on the “other side.” Even if 90 percent of your friends are Democrats, for example, 10 percent will be Republican. Still, that’s not a very big number, and the idea of a “filter bubble” - that social media allows people to surround themselves only with the people and ideas with whom they agree, has been a hot topic this election cycle.

“By far the biggest filter in the system is not that the content isn’t there, that you don’t have friends who support the other candidate or that are of another religion,” Zuckerberg said. “But it’s that you just don’t click on it. You actually tune it out when you see it. I don’t know what to do about that.”

A Difficult Line

Facebook has long denied that it’s a publisher or a media company, or that it acts remotely like either. Its cheery slogan - to make the world more “open and connected” - seemingly invites a broad range of viewpoints, diverse, lively discussion and the free flow of information, rather than censorship.

But it could also make clamping down on fake news difficult. At a time when everyone seems entitled, not just to their own opinions, but to their own facts, one person’s misleading headline might be another person’s heartfelt truth.

“We take misinformation on Facebook very seriously,” Adam Mosseri, the executive in charge of Facebook’s news feed, said in a statement to the tech blog TechCrunch this week. “We value authentic communication, and hear consistently from those who use Facebook that they prefer not to see misinformation.”

Facebook acknowledges that it has more work to do, and it seems to be putting a lot of faith in the power of data, artificial intelligence and algorithms as the solution.

Over the summer, Facebook fired the small group of journalists in charge of its “trending” items and replaced them with an algorithm. The catalyst appeared to be a report in a tech blog, based on an anonymous source, that the editors routinely suppressed conservative viewpoints.

Subsequently, fake stories ahead of the election began to trend.


Update November 19, 2016

Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant arrives on Fire tablets

 

This undated file image provided by Amazon shows color options of the new Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet. (Amazon via AP, File)

Anick Jesdanun

New York (AP) - Amazon’s Fire tablets are getting the Alexa voice assistant.

The previously announced feature has already started rolling out to customers. It’s meant to complement what users get on other Alexa devices, such as the Echo speaker. Through voice commands, users can get the news read out to them or listen to music from services such as Amazon Music or Pandora.

The Fire tablets will go beyond Echo by offering full-screen cards with additional details. For instance, when you ask for the weather, Alexa will speak out the current temperature and offer the day’s forecast, just as she does on Echo. But the visual card will also display the week’s forecast. For news and music, the card offers playback control such as pausing and skipping.

For those with both Fire and Echo, making a request on Echo will trigger the Fire’s screen to turn on and present the detailed cards, as long as a Voicecast feature is enabled through the Alexa app.

Amazon says Alexa will differ from Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant in being designed for tablets first, rather than phones. That means focusing on tasks typically done at home, such as entertainment, recipes and timers. For tasks on the go, such as finding nearby restaurants, Alexa performs a standard web search or directs you to the Alexa app. Apple and Google have special interfaces with restaurant ratings, price ranges and more, and both integrate that information into their chat apps, too.

Although the overall tablet market has been slumping, Amazon.com Inc. has managed to stay strong by slashing prices and encouraging people to buy more than one. Its bare-bones base model costs just $49. Last month, Amazon introduced a new 8-inch tablet for $90, down from $150 for similar models in the past.

So far, Amazon is avoiding business-oriented tablets such as Apple’s iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface. Aaron Bromberg, a senior product manager for Fire tablets, said that while such devices work well as laptop replacements, “we also see an awful lot of people that want tablets to use around the house for entertainment.”

“We see the market kind of dividing a bit,” he said.


Update November 12, 2016

Cheaper phones are fine - if top-end camera isn’t a must

This Oct. 21, 2016, photo shows a Motorola MotoG4, right, a Sony Xperia XA, center, and a OnePlus A3000, in New York.
(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Tali Arbel

New York (AP) - You can easily save hundreds of dollars on an Android phone - especially if you, like many people, don’t need a top-end camera.

Cheaper Android phones are, in many respects, adequate substitutes for pricier high-end models such as Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and Google’s Pixel. There are dozens worthy of consideration. I’m recommending three out of the handful I’ve tested: the OnePlus 3, Sony’s Xperia XA and Motorola’s Moto G4. All three are easy to use and have great battery life, enough for four or five movies on Netflix.

The drawbacks? For one, availability. Of the three phones, only the Moto is compatible with all the major U.S. carriers. And then there’s the camera. All smartphones take decent shots in good conditions, but high-end phones typically do better in the dark. I’ll trade hundreds of dollars in savings for a camera that does well most of the time, but shutterbugs might seek perfection.

OnePlus 3 ($399)

What’s Good: You’re not sacrificing the speed or power of top-end models. The OnePlus also has a fine camera - I could tell, even as a photography dummy. To combat blurry shots, especially in low light, the OnePlus has an anti-shake technology that’s rare for mid-range phones. Even selfies taken at dusk turned out well. The camera’s interface is nice, too, letting you swipe up or down to change from video to photo mode. OnePlus also has bells and whistles like a fingerprint scanner to unlock phones and a wireless chip for making payments in retail stores using Android Pay. It ran Netflix the longest among the three phones tested.

What’s Bad: The 5.5-inch screen is great for watching video but makes the phone too big to use comfortably one-handed. That’s a matter of personal preference, of course. Taking a screenshot is awkward, requiring the power and volume key to be pressed simultaneously, which is harder than it sounds. This is standard Android, but a few other manufacturers have found ways to tweak this. Folder icons don’t show you what apps are inside, making navigation difficult if you forget where you put your apps (again, standard Android). The phone’s not water-resistant.

Down The Road: You can’t add storage, but it comes with a fairly generous 64 gigabytes. And you don’t have as much flexibility to change carriers, as it’s not compatible with Verizon or Sprint.

Sony Xperia XA ($279)

What’s Good: Aesthetics-wise, this light, sleek phone is my favorite. It is easy to hold and use this 5-inch phone with one hand. Taking a screenshot is simple - hold down the power key, tap the screenshot option. Folders sport mini-icons of the apps they contain. You can set an alarm clock with a few taps from the home screen. The phone supports Android Pay, too.

What’s Bad: Its battery is the weakest of the bunch, in part because the phone’s smaller than the others. At default settings, the phone’s display is so dark that I sometimes had to squint to look at it. It’s better once I turned off “adaptive brightness” in the settings. Photos taken in a dimly lit room didn’t turn out well. Although one swipe switches the camera from photo to video mode or from selfie to outward-facing shots, it wasn’t intuitive and took a few hours to notice. There’s also an annoying lag when switching between the modes. The Xperia lacks a fingerprint scanner and isn’t water-resistant, unlike Sony’s top-end models.

Down The Road: You can add a MicroSD card for more storage beyond the stingy 16 gigabytes offered. As with the OnePlus, it won’t work with Verizon or Sprint.

Moto G (starts at $200)

What’s Good: The phone has a textured plastic back, so it doesn’t feel as slippery. You can customize the phone’s look when you order it with different color combinations. The camera was fine, although not as good as that on the OnePlus. There’s easy access to an alarm clock on the home screen. A swipe to the right brings up your calendar, weather and news stories linked to the Google Now digital assistant; although this is standard Android, it’s missing on the other two phones. For $50 more, you can get a Plus version with a more powerful camera and a fingerprint reader (I tested the regular model).

What’s Bad: It is bulkier than the other phones and looks cheaper. Like the OnePlus, you need two hands for the 5.5-inch phone. Taking a screenshot is difficult, and folders don’t show the apps inside. There’s no Android Pay. Oddly, there’s also no indicator light that comes on when the phone is charging. You can flick your wrist to switch from selfie to regular camera mode, but I found this difficult to do. Getting from photo to video mode takes two taps. Though Motorola says the phone will resist spills and light rain, you can’t submerge it in water.

Down the Road: The regular G4 and Plus version both start with 16 gigabytes of storage, again stingy these days, but you can pay for more up front or add storage later with a MicroSD card. And hallelujah, it’s compatible with all major U.S. cellular networks.


Update November 5, 2016

Google’s Pixel phone: Not much new, but still a standout

In this Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, file photo, Sabrina Ellis, Google director of product management, talks about the colors of the new Google Pixel phone during a product event, in San Francisco. Google’s Pixel doesn’t offer a lot that’s new. Yet it’s still one of the best out there (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Anick Jesdanun

New York (AP) - Google’s ambitious new smartphone, the Pixel, doesn’t offer a lot that’s new. Yet it’s still one of the best out there.

Google achieves that by pulling together the best features from Apple, Samsung and other phone makers and offering them at prices comparable to iPhones - starting at about $650 for the regular, 5-inch model and $770 for the 5.5-inch “XL” edition. Both versions are on sale through Google’s online store.

I tested the Pixel XL model; the regular version has identical features except for its smaller display and battery - still enough for 13 hours of internet use, according to Google. With either, you get an excellent camera and a strong voice assistant that promises to get smarter - all without the bloat common with other Android phones.

The Pixel isn’t quite an iPhone replacement, as Google wants you to believe; hardware is just part of what makes an iPhone an iPhone. But it might serve up a strong challenge to Samsung, especially as people look for alternatives to the fire-prone Galaxy Note 7.

The Camera

The Pixel’s image quality is superb - though purists may quibble. Colors in some shots look too strong and clean to me, thanks to software processing intended to reduce distortion and improve detail (something all phones do to some extent).

But automation pays off in another way: The Pixel will automatically combine successive shots into an animated “GIF” file, offering a fun way to share a toddler’s steps or a dog jumping. For video, the Pixel’s stabilization technology compensates for shaky hands and other movement, matching what the iPhone and Galaxy phones can do.

The Pixel borrows a quick-launch feature from Samsung phones. Just double tap the power button to start the camera, even if the phone is locked. To switch between the front and rear cameras, just double twist the phone like a door knob - a feature Motorola, which Google once owned, has long offered.

Low-light images taken with the Pixel in three museums aren’t as crisp as those from the iPhone 7 and Samsung’s Galaxy S7 (which has the same camera as the Note 7). But differences are small, and the Pixel does better than typical smartphones. Where the Pixel falls short is in extreme close-ups, such as shooting a flower petal or a small bug; photos were typically blurry. The Pixel’s selfie camera is also inferior, with no front flash or control over the focus. But it’s fine in good light and at typical distances for selfies.

The Assistant

Google’s voice assistant, simply known as Google Assistant, will seem familiar to those who have used Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa features.

Google’s version goes further in offering daily updates such as weather and news, though plenty of apps already offer similar capabilities through notifications. Google is also better at remembering preferences - say, if you prefer temperatures in Celsius - and at integrating with its own services, such as Translate and Photos.

But Assistant doesn’t yet sync with a similar Assistant in Google’s Allo chat app and upcoming Home speaker. And it isn’t as proactive as the Google Now assistant already built into Android phones. Google Now, for instance, will look through your Gmail account for flight reservations and remind you when to head to the airport. It will analyze your daily commute and warn of delays. Assistant waits for you to ask.

Assistant holds up well compared with Siri and Alexa, but for more, swipe from left to right to get the old Google Now back. Google says Assistant will eventually get the Google Now functionality.

Other Features

If you need help, you can reach Google’s customer support and enable screen sharing reminiscent of Amazon’s Mayday help feature. And the Pixel will work with Google’s upcoming Daydream View virtual-reality headset, much as Samsung phones have Samsung’s Gear VR.

Long-pressing an app icon brings up a menu of shortcuts, such as getting directions to home or launching the selfie camera. It’s similar to the iPhone’s 3D Touch. The Pixel also offers “Night Light,” a feature that tints your screen amber by filtering out blue light that might keep you up at night. Apple calls it Night Shift.

Pixel owners get unlimited storage of photos at original resolution, though that’s a little like offering Google search for free. Google Photos already offers unlimited storage at up to 16 megapixels; the Pixel’s camera is 12 megapixels. The free offer will make a difference for those who take video in ultra-sharp “4k” resolution, but the default setting is lower, at 1080p, which is already free at Google Photos.

What’s Missing

The Pixel will be OK if you spray it with water, but don’t drop it in the pool. You also can’t expand its storage with a memory card, as you can with the S7 and Note 7 - though for $100 more, the Pixel’s 32 gigabytes of storage quadruples to 128 gigabytes, and the free online storage should take care of your photos and videos. The battery isn’t removable, though that’s true for most phones these days.

Those looking for a Note 7 replacement will find the Pixel missing a stylus. If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll have to brace yourself for the switch to Android, which would entail buying new apps and learning new ways to navigate.

Making the Switch

Google tries to make it easy to switch. The phone comes with a transfer cable, and the set-up process walks you through transferring photos, music and video, as long as it’s not encrypted (so scratch iTunes video). But apps won’t switch over from iPhones; you need to buy them again.
 


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Zuckerberg: ‘Crazy’ to say Facebook influenced election


Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant arrives on Fire tablets


Cheaper phones are fine - if top-end camera isn’t a must


Google’s Pixel phone: Not much new, but still a standout


 



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