Pentagram designed a smart speaker that’s like HitClips for kids

The Yoto Player, a connected speaker for kids, has more in common with old-school cassette players than smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home devices. It deliberately doesn’t have a microphone, camera, or a screen — it’s really just designed to play audio, but through NFC-enabled physical cards. Inspired by Montessori teachings that emphasize tactile learning and encourage kids to have a level of independence, the cards are loaded with songs, audiobooks, and podcasts to let kids choose what they want to listen to. It was created by two parents who wanted to minimize screen time for their kids — compare to Bluetooth speakers that need to be paired with a phone — and after a successful Kickstarter run with its first version, Yoto partnered with Pentagram, (the renowned design studio behind everything from Yahoo’s redesign to microprocessors) for a second run.

The physical cards slot into the top of the speaker like the nostalgic HitClips of yore, which encased bite-sized clips of music in tiny plastic squares. Parents can connect the speaker to a companion app to “upload” their own content onto blank cards, or purchase cards that connect to Yoto’s library of music, activities, sound effects, and audiobooks from partners like Random House and the Roald Dahl collection. The speaker requires Wi-Fi, and the NFC cards contain links to content stored on Yoto’s servers, so the speaker is actually downloading content when they’re inserted into the Yoto Player. Blank cards can be customized with your own MP3s, purchased audiobooks, or anything you upload to Yoto’s server. There’s free daily content, but Yoto is also selling an annual subscription service that delivers new audio cards to your house four times a year, which costs $94. That seems like a lot to pay compared to the catalogs of audiobooks and music readily available on the Kindle library or streaming services, but parents are paying for the peace of mind knowing that their kids won’t be listened to, or subjected to an overwhelming selection of potentially child-unfriendly content.

“As physical objects, [the cards] not only allow children to be in control of content, but also support learning and play, and for very young children also promote fine motor control development,” Pentagram’s Jon Marshall told Fast Company.

The Yoto’s design is meant to be simple enough for kids to use, but sleek and modern in a way adults can appreciate. The only controls on the speaker are the two red knobs, and the soft edges of the blocky design let kids tip the speaker to turn it on and off. The soft-lit pixel display occasionally shows a friendly face or basic drawings. It can also be used as a regular Bluetooth speaker.

The speaker can charge wirelessly on top of a magnetic dock that comes included, and a built-in battery means kids can take the speaker with them wherever they go. It only lasts for about three hours of continuous play, which isn’t a lot for a wireless speaker, but Yoto says this will be improved through software updates. The Yoto Player costs $107, and will begin shipping this month.

Instagram is hiding faked images, and it could hurt digital artists

Instagram announced in December that it was rolling out a false information warning feature that used third-party fact-checkers to reduce the spread of misinformation. But the feature is now labeling some digitally manipulated art as false information and hiding photos from digital artists and photographers from the Explore and hashtag pages.

According to PetaPixel, photographer Toby Harriman spotted the false information warning pop-up on a photo of a man standing in front of some rainbow-colored hills. “As much as I do love it to help better associate real vs photoshop. I also have a huge respect for digital art and don’t want to have to click through barriers to see it,” Harriman wrote.

The photo, first taken by photographer Christopher Hainey and digitally altered by artist Ramzy Masri, does have a history of going viral with misinformation attached to it. The false information warning links to an article from fact-checking website NewsMobile, which debunks the numerous Instagram posts that shared the photo as “Death Valley National Park.”

Interesting seeing this pop up for the first time when scrolling the main Instagram feed. Looks like Instagram x…

Posted by Toby Harriman on Friday, January 10, 2020

Artists and photographers shouldn’t panic about the feature flagging their digitally manipulated work since it isn’t targeting all Photoshopped photos — just the ones that have been identified by fact-checking websites as false. But though the feature may be useful for combating the spread of misinformation, it does have the potential to be an obstacle for digital artists who want their work to be seen.

The false information warning is an extra step for people to have to tap through to see the post, and Instagram explained in its blog post that the platform will make “content from accounts that repeatedly receive these labels harder to find by removing it from Explore and hashtag pages.” Artists can’t control when their work will go viral or what kinds of misinformation others will attach to that work. There’s a chance that an artist’s account could be labeled as one that frequently spreads false information, even if it’s not their intention, which could affect their visibility on the platform.

Facebook and Instagram have faced their share of criticism around choosing to leave up posts with fake information. Last May, Facebook declined to delete a distorted video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), opting to add a disclaimer for users saying the video had been faked. The company applied the same policy in June when it decided to leave up a deepfake video of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Instagram.

“We will treat this content the same way we treat all misinformation on Instagram,” a spokesperson told The Verge. “If third-party fact-checkers mark it as false, we will filter it from Instagram’s recommendation surfaces like Explore and hashtag pages.” Facebook has been embroiled in controversy for the last few months regarding its revised political ad policy, which now says it will not subject posts from politicians to fact-checking.

The Verge has reached out to Instagram for comment and will update when we hear back.

Tangled Apple EarPods, but make it fashion

Though it seems like most people have fully embraced AirPods, let us not forget our roots, and the fact that all of us were once victims to the wired, messy cable life. These tangled Apple EarPod earrings by artists Aleia Murawski and Samuel Copeland serve as a humbling reminder of from where we came. The statement piece, first put on our radar by XOXO Festival co-founder Andy Baio, sells for $40 on the duo’s merch shop, Beef’s World.

The story behind the earrings tells the sweet moment when the artists were inspired by a stranger on the subway listening to music on his tangled headphones. On the item listing, the duo describes their creation as Chaotic Spiral Headphone Earrings, which is a fair way to describe them.

Along with these beautiful chaos earrings, Beef’s World also sells Mini Magic Wand earrings, if you’re into bold fashion statements. Murawski and Copeland also have a delightful photo and video series in which they chronicle the rich inner lives of snails, which is well worth following on their Instagram.

Headphones as earrings is a concept that’s been thoroughly explored in various ways: there are different variations on Etsy, real Bluetooth headphones that also double as earrings, and one guy who even used his gauge piercings as AirPod holders.

Personally, I don’t think I can ever give up my wired EarPods for AirPods, because I lose everything I touch. I’m like David Blaine, but the disappearing items are unintentional, and I will never see my possessions again. Besides, I kind of enjoy untangling my headphones, especially if I’m standing in front of someone on the subway wearing AirPods. That’s just a fun little thing I like to do to make AirPods owners feel good about themselves.

Amazon suspiciously says browser extension Honey is a security risk, now that PayPal owns it

Just weeks after PayPal acquired popular coupon-finding browser extension Honey in November 2019 for $4 billion, Amazon shoppers were served a notification that the extension was a security risk. The security warning was first spotted by Politico editor Ryan Hutchins, and the timing of the message, as a Wired report points out, is suspect. Honey has been compatible with Amazon for years, so why was the retailer suddenly labeling it as malware at the height of holiday shopping season?

A free extension for browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, Honey scours the web for coupon codes and automatically applies them to shoppers’ orders. It also tracks prices for individual items which is especially helpful for sites like Amazon, where prices are constantly fluctuating, and multiple listings with different prices exist for the same item. So it seems especially strange that Amazon would suddenly discourage customers from using a tool that incentivizes shoppers to buy from its site.

First spotted on December 20th, the warning read, “Honey’s browser extension is a security risk. Honey tracks your private shopping behavior, collects data like your order history and items saved, and can read or change any of your data on any website you visit. To keep your data private and secure, uninstall this extension immediately.”

While the statement is technically true, it’s also true of many browser extensions. And though Honey does collect data, it’s data used for its own service, like which recent coupon codes worked on what sites. In the company’s Privacy and Security policy (which users consent to before they use the service), it states that Honey doesn’t sell personal information, nor does it track search engine history, emails, or browsing data on any non-retail site.

“Our goal is to warn customers about browser extensions that collect personal shopping data without their knowledge or consent,” an Amazon spokesperson told The Verge, but declined to comment further on why it deemed Honey a security risk and the timing behind its decision to do so.

Honey says it works with security firms to regularly assess the service. A cybersecurity firm did find a vulnerability that exposed user information in the extension last summer, but it was patched quickly. “We only use data in ways that directly benefit Honey members — helping people save money and time — and in ways they would expect,” a Honey spokesperson told Wired. “Our commitment is clearly spelled out in our privacy and security policy.”

With PayPal paying $4 billion in its largest acquisition ever for Honey, it’s possible that Amazon is feeling threatened by the extension being owned by a competitor in the e-commerce space. Both Amazon and PayPal compete as online payment processors, and Honey’s primary business model involves charging retailers, like Amazon, a percentage of sales made with the online coupons it finds and serves automatically to users.

Samsung and LG go head to head with AI-powered fridges that recognize food

Get ready for a smart fridge showdown at CES 2020, because Samsung and LG will both be unveiling fridges with added artificial intelligence capabilities this year. Samsung’s latest edition of its Family Hub refrigerator and LG’s second-generation InstaView ThinQ fridge both tout AI-equipped cameras that can identify food. The idea is that the cameras can scan what’s inside and let users know what items they’re short on, even making meal suggestions based on the ingredients they still have.

Samsung’s Family Hub smart fridge was first unveiled at CES 2016, and since then, the company has been rolling out updated iterations with Bixby support, SmartThings integration, and AKG speakers. The latest edition adds software upgrades to enable AI image recognition in its View Inside cameras.

Before, the cameras let users see what’s in their fridges from their smartphones, a useful feature if you happen to be out grocery shopping and can’t remember what you need to stock up on. With the AI-enabled updates, Family Hub will supposedly make these recommendations for you on its own, identifying which ingredients you’re low on. Though it’s to be determined how well the image recognition will work — for example, how will it deal with ingredients stored in tubs of Tupperware?

The software upgrades also include improved meal planning with the help of Whisk, a food tech startup Samsung acquired last year. Whisk lets users plan meals for up to a week and then creates smart shopping lists using ingredients that apply to multiple recipes.

Finally, the huge built-in touchscreen that can be used as a virtual bulletin board can now support video clips, as well as mirror content from Samsung TVs and phones. That means you can watch vertical videos like IGTV on your Samsung fridge, as God intended.

Samsung’s Family Hub fridge comes in silver (pictured here) and black.
Image: Samsung

LG is showing off two models of its InstaView fridges, both of which feature a 22-inch display that can turn transparent to let users see what’s inside without opening the door and letting the cold air out. There’s the AI-equipped InstaView ThinQ and the InstaView with Craft Ice, which makes fancy, two-inch spherical ice balls. Those are supposed to melt slower than regular ice, if that’s a problem that you have. The InstaView with Craft Ice was released in the US last year, but will now be available in more markets.

There’s no pricing information yet, but based on the prices for LG and Samsung’s previous fridge models, customers can expect prices to range from $4,500 to $6,000. Samsung says its Family Hub updates will be available in the spring.

I’m not opposed to the idea of a huge Wi-Fi-connected touchscreen on a fridge — in fact, it seems like a genuinely useful way to look up recipes or display cute photos and videos. I’m skeptical how well the AI will identify different ingredients, and whether using a computer to see what items you’re low on is really better than just taking a look for yourself.

A thief stole unencrypted hard drives filled with 29,000 Facebook employees’ information

Banking data for 29,000 Facebook employees, which was stored on unencrypted hard drives, was stolen by a thief from a payroll worker’s car, according to a Bloomberg report. The hard drives contained information on thousands of US workers who were employed by Facebook in 2018, including bank account numbers, employee names, the last four digits of their social security numbers, their salaries, bonuses, and equity details. Facebook notified its staff of the theft via email Friday morning.

Though the stolen drives didn’t contain any Facebook user data, the theft still raises questions about Facebook’s level of caution around personal data, which seems shockingly low considering its history of user privacy scandals. The company also failed to notify employees until almost a full month after the break-in occurred on November 17th. An internal email revealed the company only realized the hard drives were missing on November 20th, and confirmed that the drives contained employee information on November 29th. The company is still working with police to recover the stolen hard drives, and is offering its employees two-year subscriptions to an identity theft protection service.

“We have seen no evidence of abuse and believe this was a smash and grab crime rather than an attempt to steal employee information,” a Facebook spokesperson shared in a statement to Bloomberg.

It’s not clear why the hard drives were being transported in the first place, as the employee wasn’t supposed to have taken them out of the office. It’s also horrifying that the hard drives storing personal information were unencrypted, especially given the amount of car theft in the Bay Area, where Facebook employees live and work. The spokesperson says Facebook has taken “appropriate disciplinary action.”

You can read the full Bloomberg report here.