Samsung’s next flagship Galaxy phone will reportedly have a 120Hz display

Samsung’s next Galaxy flagship will have a screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, a new report from SamMobile is claiming. Citing “highly reliable sources,” the publication claims that the Galaxy S11 (or Galaxy S20, depending on which rumors you believe) will use one of Samsung’s own high refresh rate displays, which it has previously manufactured and sold to competitors, but not used in its own handsets.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard rumors that the Galaxy S11 will feature a 120Hz display. Last November, Twitter leaker Ice Universe reported that a hidden 120Hz setting had been found in a beta version of the Note 9’s One UI software. Although the Note 9 itself has just a 60Hz display, the existence of the setting suggests that a 120Hz display is a feature Samsung is considering for its future handsets. Over the weekend, Ice Universe reiterated their prediction.

As the benefits from increasing screen resolution have become more marginal, phone manufacturers are increasingly turning to higher refresh rates to give their phone displays the edge. Last year’s Google Pixel 4 and the OnePlus 7T both featured 90Hz displays, while gaming phones like the Razer Phone 2 and the Asus ROG Phone 2 have gone further with their 120Hz displays. Higher refresh rates have the benefit of making motion and scrolling appear much smoother on a phone screen, which benefits games as well as other software animations. Past a certain refresh rate, diminishing returns inevitably set in, but the point at which it does so is a matter of much debate.

Regardless of whether it ends up being called the Galaxy S11 or Galaxy S20, Samsung’s next flagship is due to be announced on February 11th, where it may or may not be joined by the company’s second foldable smartphone.

Apple reunites with iPhone graphics chip partner to license technology

Apple will once again license technology from Imagination Technologies, the chip designer that used to provide graphics processors for the iPhone and iPad, the UK-based company announced today. In a short statement posted on its website, Imagination said that it had entered into a multiyear license agreement with Apple, under which the Cupertino, California-based firm will have access to “a wider range of Imagination’s intellectual property in exchange for license fees.”

Apple announced its split from Imagination back in April 2017 when it said that it would start designing its own graphics chips, and it would stop licensing the company’s technology within two years. After the split was announced, Imagination expressed skepticism that Apple could design its own chips “without violating Imagination’s patents, intellectual property, and confidential information.”

In spite of this, Apple went on to announce the iPhone 8 and iPhone X later that year, which, thanks to their A11 Bionic chips, contained what Apple called its first Apple-designed graphics processor. It went on to boast that the GPU was 30 percent faster than its predecessor. Apple also used its own graphics processor in the 2018 iPad Pro, according to Bloomberg.

Following the news of the agreement’s termination, Imagination’s share price dropped sharply overnight. The company claimed that Apple only gave it a few days’ notice that the deal would be coming to an end. (Apple disputes this.) Later that year, it was forced to sell itself to a private equity firm, Silicon Valley-based Canyon Bridge, for £550 million (around $725 million). At the time, it maintained that it was still “in dispute with Apple.”

Apple’s attitude toward its graphics processors is part of a broader effort to reduce its reliance on other chip designers and manufacturers. In 2018, the company acquired part of chipmaker Dialog for $300 million in a deal that saw it license some of Dialog’s power management technology and acquire 300 engineers. The following year, it acquired Intel’s smartphone modem business, putting it on track to produce its modem’s in house. At one point, it reportedly even considered a similar acquisition of Imagination, according to the Financial Times, but it’s thought to have decided against a full takeover.

Wyze server leak exposes customer data of 2.4 million users

An unsecured server exposed the data of Wyze customers over a period of three weeks, the smart security camera manufacturer has admitted. The leak was first discovered by the cybersecurity firm Twelve Security, which published its findings on December 26th, while IPVM, a blog focused on video surveillance products, was able to verify that its own data had been affected by the leak. According to Twelve Security, the data of around 2.4 million Wyze customers was compromised.

In a forum post announcing the leak to its users, Wyze co-founder Dongsheng Song wrote that the exposed server was not a production server, but was instead a “flexible database” that was created to allow for customer data to be more quickly queried. The co-founder said that an employee error led to the server’s security protocols being removed on December 4th, and the data was exposed until December 26th when the company was made aware of the problem.

In its blog post on the leak, Twelve Security said that the server included information like usernames, email addresses, camera nicknames, device models, firmware information, Wi-Fi SSID details, API tokens for iOS and Android, and Alexa tokens from users who’d connected Amazon’s voice assistant with their security cameras. (Wyze says that the database did not include user passwords.) The cybersecurity firm also claimed that the database included a huge array of health information, including height, weight, bone density, and daily protein intake. Song confirmed that some health information was present thanks to a beta test of a new smart scale product, but disputed that it had ever collected information on bone density and daily protein intake.

Twelve Security even claimed that there were “clear indications” that the data was being sent to the Alibaba Cloud in China. Song’s forum post disputes this. He said that Wyze does not use Alibaba Cloud, and that although it has employees and manufacturing partners it China, it does not share user data with any government agencies.

In response to the security lapse, Song says that Wyze has begun conducting an audit of all its servers and databases, and has discovered another unprotected database. He also said that the company is revisiting “all aspects” of its security guidelines. In the meantime, the co-founder said that Wyze users should beware of phishing attacks, and that the company has logged all its users out of their accounts and unlinked their third-party integrations to try to close the security loophole caused by the compromised API and Alexa tokens.

The data leak comes at the end of a difficult year for Wyze. The company announced a new AI-powered people detection feature back in July for its affordable security cameras, only to have the AI startup it partnered with on the feature drop out in November, casting doubt on the feature’s future. The launch of its subscription service also needed to be delayed that same month due to unspecified “critical issues.”

Song was keen to emphasize that the company’s budget prices don’t mean that it takes security any less seriously. “We’ve often heard people say, ‘You pay for what you get,’ assuming Wyze products are less secure because they are less expensive. This is not true,” the co-founder wrote. “We’ve always taken security very seriously, and we’re devastated that we let our users down like this.”

Tesla’s Chinese factory just delivered its first cars

Tesla has delivered the first cars produced by its Chinese Gigafactory, just under a year after the company broke ground on its first factory located outside of the US. Reuters reports that the Model 3 vehicles were delivered to 15 of Tesla’s employees as part of a ceremony. The deliveries were made well within schedule by the company, which had previously said it wanted to begin delivering its Chinese-made cars before the Lunar New Year on January 25th. The locally-produced cars already offer a large price saving over imported models, and a Bloomberg report recently said the company could lower prices further as it cuts costs and uses more locally-sourced components.

The deliveries mark an important milestone for Tesla, which hopes to use its Shanghai factory to gain a foothold in China, the world’s largest market for electric vehicles. It’s hoped that the local factory will help to speed up deliveries and insulate the company from the ongoing trade war between US and China. The Shanghai Gigafactory is the first wholly foreign-owned car plant in China.

The Standard Range Plus Model 3s produced in the factory will be sold for 355,800 yuan (around $50,000) before subsidies, while models imported into the country currently start at 439,000 yuan (around $63,000), according to Reuters. Next year could see prices drop further according to Bloomberg, as Tesla cuts costs and starts using more local components to reduce prices by as much as 20 percent.

Tesla signed the deal to build its third Gigafactory back in July 2018, and it follows its first two US Gigafactories in Nevada and Buffalo, New York. Tesla started construction of the Shanghai factory itself in January of this year, and by October it said it was already producing vehicles on a trial basis. Reuters notes that the factory is up and running just 357 days after construction started.

Now, the challenge for Tesla will be ramping up production. The company has said that it hopes to produce 3,000 Model 3 cars per week by early next year, according to Electrek, increasing to as much as 500,000 vehicles a year within two to three years — an average of just under 10,000 a week — according to the agreement it originally signed with the Chinese government back in 2018.

Tesla’s speed in setting up Gigafactory 3 bodes well for Gigafactory 4, which the company’s CEO Elon Musk announced in November will be located in Berlin. The company says that it wants its European Gigafactory to be operational by 2021. Musk says his eventual plan is to build as many as 10 or 12 Gigafactories around the world.

London’s electric buses are getting fake noise, and it’s positively psychedelic

From next year, some of London’s electric buses will play artificial noise while traveling at low speeds, and the specific sound that’s been created for them is an ambient treat for the ears. The noise was created by Zelig Sound, which has been working with Transport for London on the audio over the past year.

The sound is being introduced in response to a new EU law which stipulates that all electric vehicles will eventually need to produce artificial noise while traveling at low speeds, to make up for the lack of noise from their internal engines. If you can’t hear a vehicle, then you’re not as aware of its presence, and research suggests pedestrians are more likely to be hit by electric or hybrid cars as a result.

Wired reports the base note is a soft F#maj7 chord, with a slight pulsing sound in the background. This is what gets played when a bus is stationary:

Then, when the bus starts moving, the chord is joined by a C sharp every three beats to indicate motion:

In the EU, regulations mean that cars will need to play a sound that’s 56 dB in volume when traveling at less than 20 km/h (12.4 mph) — any faster and a combination of tire and wind noise makes up for the lack of engine noise.

Since the artificial sound doesn’t have to be retrofitted into older electric cars until 2021, London’s transport authority is introducing the new bus sounds gradually. The capital’s 100 route will get the new sounds for six months starting in January, before it expands to the C10 and P5 routes later in the year. Its introduction follows field trials in Tottenham, where its effectiveness has been tested with real world pedestrians. Organizations representing people with visual impairments, cycling, and environmental groups were also consulted during its creation.

Of course, the real question now is not how the track sounds in isolation, but how it comes across when multiple electric buses are jockeying for space on London’s busy streets. Only 200 of London’s roughly 8,000 iconic red buses are currently electric, but that number is only going to increase as more of the capital’s combustion-engine-equipped vehicles reach the end of their lives.

Federal study of top facial recognition algorithms finds ‘empirical evidence’ of bias

A new federal study has found that many of the world’s top facial recognition algorithms are biased along lines of age, race, and ethnicity. According to the study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), algorithms currently sold in the market can misidentify members of some groups up to 100 times more frequently than others.

NIST says it found “empirical evidence” that characteristics such as age, gender, and race impact accuracy for the “majority” of algorithms. The group tested 189 algorithms from 99 organizations, which together power most of the facial recognition systems in use globally.

The findings provide yet more evidence that many of the world’s most advanced facial recognition algorithms are not ready for use in critical areas such as law enforcement and national security. Lawmakers called the study “shocking,” The Washington Post reports, and called on the US government to reconsider plans to use the technology to secure its borders.

The study tested “one-to-one” checks, used to match someone against a passport or ID card, as well as “one-to-many” searches, where someone is matched with a single record in a larger database. African American women were inaccurately identified most frequently in one-to-many searches, while Asians, African Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders were all misidentified in one-to-one searches. Children and the elderly were also falsely identified more. In some cases, Asian and African American people were misidentified as much as 100 times more than white men. The highest accuracy rates were generally found among middle-aged white men.

The NIST study relied on organizations voluntarily submitting their algorithms for testing. But missing from the list was Amazon, which sells its Rekognition software to local police and federal investigators. Previous studies have raised concerns about the accuracy of Amazon’s system, and AI researchers have called on the company to stop selling its “flawed” system. Amazon claims that its software cannot be easily analyzed by NIST’s tests (despite the fact tech companies with similar products have no problem submitting their algorithms) and its shareholders have resisted calls to curb sales of Rekognition.

Experts say bias in these algorithms could be reduced by using a more diverse set of training data. The researchers found that algorithms developed in Asian countries, for example, did not have as big a difference in error rates between white and Asian faces.

However, even fixing the issue of bias won’t solve every problem with facial recognition when the technology is used in ways that doesn’t respect people’s security or privacy.

“What good is it to develop facial analysis technology that is then weaponized?” Joy Buolamwini, an AI researcher who has spearheaded investigations into facial recognition bias, told The Verge last year. “The technical considerations cannot be divorced from the social implications.”

Facebook is working on its own OS that could reduce its reliance on Android

Facebook is developing its own operating system that could one day reduce the company’s reliance on Google’s Android, according to a new report by The Information. Development is currently being led by Mark Lucovsky, a Microsoft veteran who co-authored the Windows NT operating system.

The report provides a limited amount of information about how the new operating system could be used, but it notes that both Facebook’s Oculus and Portal devices currently run on a modified version of Android. According to one of Facebook’s AR and VR heads, Ficus Kirkpatrick, “it’s possible” that Facebook’s future hardware won’t need to rely on Google’s software, which would reduce or remove entirely the control Google has over Facebook’s hardware.

“We really want to make sure the next generation has space for us,” Facebook’s head of hardware, Andrew Bosworth, told The Information. “We don’t think we can trust the marketplace or competitors to ensure that’s the case. And so we’re gonna do it ourselves.”

Along with Oculus and Portal devices, Facebook is also working on augmented reality glasses. According to Bosworth, these glasses, codenamed “Orion,” could arrive as early as 2023. For those keeping score, that’s the same year that Apple is expected to come out with a pair of AR glasses of its own. Facebook is also working on a brain control interface for its glasses, which could allow users to control them with their thoughts.

The report suggests that Facebook is hoping to eventually take a similar approach to Apple with its hardware in the future. As well as developing its own OS, The Information corroborates reports from Bloomberg and the Financial Times earlier this year that Facebook is working on its own custom chip hardware, alongside the voice assistant that it confirmed it’s working on earlier this year.

It’s worth pointing out that Facebook’s last attempt at producing its own OS did not go so well. The attempt resulted in a forked version of Android that ran on an HTC-produced phone back in 2013. Flooding a phone with Facebook’s social feed was wildly unpopular even back before Facebook’s brand was tarnished with numerous privacy scandals. Facebook will have an uphill battle on its hands if it wants people to give its software another shot.

Facebook acquires cloud gaming service PlayGiga

Facebook has acquired the Spanish cloud gaming company PlayGiga, which previously offered its services across Italy, Argentina, Chile, and Spain. The purchase was confirmed by Facebook to CNBC, following reports last week from Cinco Dias which claimed that the deal was imminent and was valued at €70 million (around $78 million).

In a tweet confirming the news, Facebook Gaming’s official twitter account said “We’re thrilled to welcome @PlayGigaOficial to the Facebook Gaming team. We’ll decline further c☁️mment for now.” A message on PlayGiga’s website says that the team is “moving on to something new” but confirmed that it would be continuing its work on cloud gaming.

Facebook’s acquisition comes as the cloud gaming market is growing thanks to the entry of some big new players. Last month, Google launched its Stadia service, while Microsoft is previewing its own xCloud platform ahead of its official launch in 2020. Meanwhile, Sony has had a cloud gaming service of its own, PlayStation Now, for a few years now, but recently dropped its price to $9.99 a month.

Compared to these juggernauts, PlayGiga is a far smaller cloud gaming company, but prior to the acquisition it had plans to expand. As well as its existing four markets, Variety notes that it was previously planning a launch in the Middle East, and had explored offering its 300-strong library of games in Sweden, Austria, the Netherlands and Guatemala. There’s no guarantee that Facebook will use the acquisition to launch a cloud gaming service of its own, but PlayGiga’s publisher relationships and streaming technology would make it a lot easier to do so.

Gaming has been an increasing focus for Facebook in recent years. Back in March, the company added a “Gaming” section to its navigation bar, which brought together its Twitch-like streaming service Facebook Gaming, as well as its collection of web-based Instant Games. It has also had a keen interest in VR gaming ever since its acquisition of Oculus in 2014, and last month acquired Beat Studios, the developer behind Beat Saber. The company recently claimed over 700 million of its users engage with Facebook’s gaming content each month.

Lime launches weekly subscription service for frequent riders

Lime just announced LimePass, a weekly subscription service that waives the unlock fee on renting the company’s electric scooters and bicycles. The company says the subscription is now available in cities across the US, Australia, and New Zealand, and that it plans to offer it in more markets starting in January.

Although Lime says that pricing will vary between markets, a screenshot of the subscription suggests that it will cost $4.99 per week in San Francisco. Lime says its unlock fee tends to be around $1 or €1 per ride, meaning the pass could pay for itself over the course of around five rides. Importantly, the pass only covers the service’s unlock fee, meaning you’ll still have to pay the per-minute charge for your ride.

A screenshot shows the pass costing $4.99 in San Francisco, although pricing will vary by region.
Image: Lime

Subscriptions are fast becoming a way for scooter- and bike-sharing companies to lock in more customers in the hopes of boosting their revenue stream. Surprisingly, no two companies appear to have landed on the same subscription model, which suggests there may be room for even more experimentation in the months ahead.

Earlier this year Bird launched an all-inclusive subscription for $24.99 a month, which gets you one of the company’s scooters delivered to your door and the ability to use it an unlimited amount for a month. However when we tried it out for ourselves we found that the poor quality of Bird’s scooters made the rental scheme a difficult sell, despite its cheap all-inclusive price. Meanwhile Uber, which owns Jump, offers free bike and scooter trips to people who sign up for its Ride Pass subscription service while Lyft’s subscription plan, Lyft Pink, is about $20 a month and includes discounted scooter and bike rides.

As more and more rental companies are springing up in cities around the world, competition for riders is only getting more intense. When multiple rental companies are available in a city, companies have to work hard if they want people to pick their scooters and bikes when they need a ride. A $5 per-week subscription is an easy way of saving a few dollars if you ride scooters a lot, but what’s more important for Lime is that it means you’ll always pick the company’s rideables over its competitors when given a choice.

Update December 17th, 6:35AM ET: Added additional details about Uber and Lyft’s competing subscription services.

Instagram to start warning users before they post ‘potentially offensive’ captions

Starting today, Instagram will start warning users when they’re about to post a “potentially offensive” caption for a photo or video that’s being uploaded to their main feed, the company has announced. If an Instagram user posts something that the service’s AI-powered tools think could be hurtful, the app will generate a notification to say that the caption “looks similar to others that have been reported.” It will then encourage the user to edit the caption, but it will also give them the option of posting it unchanged.

The new feature builds upon a similar AI-powered tool that Instagram introduced for comments back in July. The company says that nudging people to reconsider posting potentially hurtful comments has had “promising” results in the company’s fight against online bullying.

Posting a potentially offensive comment will generate a warning that encourages you to edit it.
Image: Instagram

This is just the latest in a series of measures that Instagram has been taking to address bullying on its platform. In October, the service launched a new “Restrict” feature that lets users shadow ban their bullies, and last year, it started using AI to filter offensive comments and proactively detect bullying in photos and captions.

Unlike its other moderation tools, the difference here is that Instagram is relying on users to spot when one of their comments crosses the line. It’s unlikely to stop the platform’s more determined bullies, but hopefully it has a shot at protecting people from thoughtless insults.

Instagram says the new feature is rolling out in “select countries” for now, but it will expand globally in the coming months.