BlackBerry’s M&A head Jim Mackey left company in February

23 Jan

BlackBerry’s M&A head Jim Mackey left company in February

Jim Mackey, BlackBerry Ltd’s head of corporate development and strategy, left the technology company in mid-February, he said on Thursday, leaving a leadership gap as it transitions to software from smartphone hardware.

“It is true I left BlackBerry as of Feb. 13,” Mackey, who was executive vice president, executive operations, said in a LinkedIn message in response to a Reuters inquiry.

He did not give a reason and could not be reached for further comment.

BlackBerry, which in late 2013 issued a press release on the hiring of Mackey, did not announce his departure. Chief Operating Officer Marty Beard, in an interview on Thursday, declined to comment.

BlackBerry spurned its own operating system in favor of Alphabet Inc’s Android in late 2015 and signed deals late last year to license its security and productivity software to three manufacturers which are now building BlackBerry-branded devices.

Mackey worked directly with BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen, navigating the purchase and integration of a string of acquisitions and the signing of major partnership agreements.

Beard said in the interview that the company had largely completed its software portfolio and needed to push hard to win more customers, including by adding partners.

“The next part of it is the channel,” Beard said. “You can’t do it only direct, you need partners that fill in the gaps.”

“The biggest issue we have is not getting invited to the table because the customer doesn’t know that BlackBerry is doing that. That’s the challenge.”

In 2015 BlackBerry bought data synchronization company WatchDox and emergency communications company AtHoc for undisclosed amounts and paid $425-million to acquire former rival Good Technology Corp.

The businesses have been integrated into a broader security software portfolio that is key to BlackBerry’s future after losing its market-leading position in handsets to Apple Inc and Android-based devices.

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21 Jan

Disruption in Amazon’s cloud service causes problems across Internet

Web users experienced widespread glitches on Tuesday, from news sites to government services, after Inc’s popular cloud service that hosts their data suffered a technical disruption.

Amazon’s Simple Storage Service, or Amazon S3, had difficulty sending and receiving clients’ data for more than 3-1/2 hours, according to company status reports online. Amazon did not disclose the cause, and some of its smaller cloud applications in North America continued to have trouble.

The far reach of the disruption underscored the increasing dependence of organizations on the cloud for cheap and secure data storage. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the world’s biggest cloud business.

Apple Inc on its website reported issues with its app store, music-streaming service and other products, which it later resolved. The iPhone maker did not immediately comment on the cause; however, it previously has said it uses Amazon S3 for some storage.

Nilay Patel,‏ editor in chief of tech website The Verge, said on Twitter that an article “published without an image because our image system runs on AWS.” Messaging startup Slack Technologies Inc said users may have had difficulty uploading files due to problems with its hosting service, according to posts on Twitter.

“Imagine your business not being able to run for a day. That’s a big problem,” said Gene Munster, head of research for Loup Ventures.

The disruption extended beyond the business world. A site for Georgetown University professors to manage course content and grade assignments, which relies on Amazon’s cloud, had “connectivity problems,” the university’s chief information officer said in a message to students and faculty, seen by Reuters.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said in a statement, “Our cloud services provider has informed us that they are experiencing issues that are affecting page loads on and that they are working to resolve the issues as quickly as possible.”

Loup Ventures’ Munster called the disruption “a temporary black eye” for Amazon. Customers would not go through the hassle of switching to a competing cloud service because of a one-time event, he said.

AWS is a large, fast-growing source of revenue for Amazon. It has helped transform the retailer, once known simply for selling books online, into a technology platform.

Amazon shares closed down less than 1 per cent.

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19 Jan

TCL carries flickering BlackBerry flame with KEYone phone launch

Blackberry Ltd may have exited the device business, but fans of the pioneering e-mail machine need not despair as Chinese smartphone maker TCL Communication has introduced its first Blackberry-licensed phone with the physical keyboard that was long its key allure.

The KEYone combines a touch display with a physical keyboard to give users more useable space for typing than a typical 5.5-inch all-touch smartphone, along with BlackBerry Ltd’s security and software, TCL said.

TCL cut the new brand-licensing deal in December with BlackBerry Ltd., which now focuses on making the security software that was another key factor underpinning the Canadian company’s phenomenal success in the pre-smartphone era and sustained it with corporate users as the world moved on to smartphones with other features.

The partnership helps address weaknesses for both companies: TCL gives BlackBerry a manufacturer that can still compete at global scale following a decade-long slide in BlackBerry sales, while TCL gains a new brand to shore up its own flagging growth in smartphones.

“We have worked closely with TCL to build security and the BlackBerry experience into every layer of KEYone, so the BlackBerry DNA remains very much in place,” said Alex Thurber, general manager of BlackBerry Ltd’s Mobility Solutions unit.

The new BlackBerry KEYone smartphone was unveiled here ahead of the Mobile World Congress, Europe’s largest annual trade fair, on Saturday.

The first fruits of TCL’s new product line carries a hefty price tag, which could limit its appeal to diehard fans of the device once known as the Crackberry.

The KEYone will be available in April and priced around 599 euros, $549 or 499 pounds, in line with premium phones from Apple, Samsung and Huawei.

TCL, which sells its phones in 160 countries, did not specify which would be first to offer the KEYone.

TCL is best known as the maker of Alcatel handsets and ranked as the world’s No. 7 phone maker, according to recent data from research group IDC.

It is the third-largest maker of simpler, so-called feature phones popular in Latin America and emerging markets, according to market research firm Strategy Analytics.

TCL has acted as contract manufacturer for earlier BlackBerry devices but now licenses the phone brand and gives the Canadian company a cut of each handset sold.

The device runs Android 7.1 – giving users access to the Google Play store and apps – and receives Google security patch updates, which many Android smartphones lack.

It also runs the BBM secure-messaging system, which BlackBerry earlier this month said it would make available for software developers to build into their own products.

With an aluminum frame and textured backing, the device sports two cameras – 12 megapixels in the rear and eight in front – and a scratch-resistant 4.5-inch screen display.

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17 Jan

Dubai aims to have passenger-carrying drone taxi in service in July

Up, up and away: Dubai hopes to have a passenger-carrying drone regularly buzzing through the skyline of this futuristic city-state in July.

The arrival of the Chinese-made EHang 184 — which already has had its flying debut over Dubai’s iconic, sail-shaped Burj al-Arab skyscraper hotel — comes as the Emirati city also has partnered with other cutting-edge technology companies, including Hyperloop One.

The question is whether the egg-shaped, four-legged craft will really take off as a transportation alternative in this car-clogged city already home to the world’s longest driverless metro line.

Mattar al-Tayer, the head of Dubai’s Roads & Transportation Agency, announced plans to have the craft regularly flying at the World Government Summit. Before his remarks on Monday, most treated the four-legged, eight-propeller craft as just another curiosity at an event that views itself as a desert Davos.

“This is not only a model,” al-Tayer said. “We have actually experimented with this vehicle flying in Dubai’s skies.”

The craft can carry a passenger weighing up to 100 kilograms (220 pounds) and a small suitcase. After buckling into its race-car-style seat, the craft’s sole passenger selects a destination on a touch-screen pad in front of the seat and the drone flies there automatically.

The drone, which has a battery allowing for a half-hour flight time and a range of up to 50 kilometres (31 miles), will be monitored remotely by a control room on the ground. It has a top speed of 160 kph (100 mph), but authorities say it will be operated typically at 100 kph (62 mph).

Al-Tayer said the drone would begin regular operations in July. He did not elaborate.

The Road and Transportation Agency later issued a statement saying the drone had been examined by the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and was controlled through 4G mobile internet. The agency did not immediately respond to further questions from The Associated Press.

The United Arab Emirates already requires drone hobbyists to register their aircraft. However, drone intrusions at Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, has seen it shut down for hours at a time in recent months.

EHang did not respond to a request for comment. In May, authorities in Nevada announced they would partner with EHang to test the 184 to possibly be cleared by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

The drone may be a techno curiosity for now but Dubai — the commercial capital of the oil-rich UAE and home to the long-haul carrier Emirates — has bold visions for the future and the 184 fits right into its plans.

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced in April he wanted 25 per cent of all passenger trips in the city to be done by driverless vehicles in 2030. To that end, Dubai already has had the box-shaped driverless EZ10, built by France’s EasyMile, cruise nearby the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.

In October, Dubai signed a deal with Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One to study the potential for building a hyperloop line between it and Abu Dhabi, the Emirati capital.

A hyperloop has levitating pods powered by electricity and magnetism that hurtle through low-friction pipes at a top speed of 1,220 kph (760 mph). Elon Musk, the co-founder of Tesla who appeared on Monday at the Dubai conference, first proposed the idea of a hyperloop in 2013.

Musk, who took no questions from reporters on Monday, later launched his Tesla car brand in Dubai at an event organizers said was not open to international media. Musk has come under criticism for serving on a business council advising U.S. President Donald Trump.

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17 Jan

Facebook to add 3,000 employees to watch for inappropriate content

Facebook Inc will hire 3,000 more people over the next year to speed up the removal of videos showing murder, suicide and other violent acts, in its most dramatic move yet to combat the biggest threat to its valuable public image.

The hiring spree, announced by Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday, comes after users were shocked by two video posts in April showing killings in Thailand and the United States.

The move is an acknowledgement by Facebook that it needs more than automated software to identify and remove such material.

The problem has become more pressing since the introduction last year of Facebook Live, a service that allows any of Facebook’s 1.9 billion monthly users to broadcast video, which has been marred by some violent scenes.

Some violence on Facebook is inevitable given its size, researchers say, but the company has been attacked for its slow response.

UK lawmakers this week accused social media companies including Facebook of doing a “shameful” job removing child abuse and other potentially illegal material.

In Germany, the company has been under pressure to be quicker and more accurate in removing illegal hate speech and to clamp down on so-called fake news.

German lawmakers have threatened fines if the company cannot remove at least 70 percent of offending posts within 24 hours.

So far, Facebook has avoided political fallout from U.S. lawmakers or any significant loss of the advertisers it depends on for revenue. Some in the ad industry have defended Facebook, citing the difficulty of policing material from its many users. Police agencies have said Facebook works well with them.

Facebook shares fell slightly on Wednesday, and edged lower still after the bell, following its quarterly earnings.

Artificial intelligence

Zuckerberg, the company’s co-founder, said in a Facebook post the workers will be in addition to the 4,500 people who already review posts that may violate its terms of service. Facebook has 17,000 employees overall, not including contractors.

Last week, a father in Thailand broadcast himself killing his daughter on Facebook Live, police said. After more than a day, and 370,000 views, Facebook removed the video. Another video of a man shooting and killing another in Cleveland last month also shocked viewers.

Zuckerberg said the company would do better: “We’re working to make these videos easier to report so we can take the right action sooner – whether that’s responding quickly when someone needs help or taking a post down.”

The 3,000 workers will be new positions and will monitor all Facebook content, not just live videos, the company said. The company did not say where the jobs would be located, although Zuckerberg said the team operates around the world.

The world’s largest social network has been turning to artificial intelligence to try to automate the process of finding pornography, violence and other potentially offensive material. In March, the company said it planned to use such technology to help spot users with suicidal tendencies and get them assistance.

However, Facebook still relies largely on its users to report problematic material. It receives millions of reports from users each week, and like other large Silicon Valley companies, it relies on thousands of human monitors to review the reports.

“Despite industry claims to the contrary, I don’t know of any computational mechanism that can adequately, accurately, 100 percent do this work in lieu of humans. We’re just not there yet technologically,” said Sarah Roberts, a professor of information studies at UCLA who looks at content monitoring.

The workers who monitor material generally work on contract in places such as India and the Philippines, and they face difficult working conditions because of the hours they spend making quick decisions while sifting through traumatic material, Roberts said in an interview.

In December, two people who monitored graphic material for Microsoft Corp’s services such as Skype sued the company, saying it had failed to warn them about the risks to their mental health. They are seeking compensation for medical costs, wages lost from disability and other damages.

Microsoft has disputed their claims. The company said in a statement that it takes seriously the responsibility to remove and report imagery of child sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as the health and resilience of employees.

Mental health assistance plans sometimes fall by the wayside for such workers, and there was a risk that would happen for Facebook if it tries to find 3,000 new workers quickly, Roberts said. “To do it at this scale and this magnitude, I question that,” she said.

Psychological support

Facebook says that every person reviewing its content is offered psychological support and wellness resources, and that the company has a support program in place.

When Facebook launched its live service in April 2016, Zuckerberg spoke about it as a place for “raw and visceral” communication.

“Because it’s live, there is no way it can be curated,” Zuckerberg told BuzzFeed News in an interview then. “And because of that it frees people up to be themselves. It’s live; it can’t possibly be perfectly planned out ahead of time.”

Since then, at least 50 criminal or violent incidents have been broadcast over Facebook Live, including assault, murder and suicide, The Wall Street Journal reported in March.

In January, four African-Americans in Chicago were accused of attacking an 18-year-old disabled man on Facebook Live while making anti-white racial taunts. They have pleaded not guilty.

A man in Cleveland, Ohio, last month was accused of shooting another man on a sidewalk and then uploading a video of the murder to Facebook, where it remained for about two hours. The man later fatally shot himself.

Zuckerberg said the company would keep working with community groups and law enforcement, and that there have been instances when intervention has helped.

“Just last week, we got a report that someone on Live was considering suicide,” he wrote in his post. “We immediately reached out to law enforcement, and they were able to prevent him from hurting himself. In other cases, we weren’t so fortunate.”

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15 Jan

Back-up cameras to become mandatory for cars in May 2018

Transport Canada says new cars and small trucks will have to be equipped with rear-view camera systems starting in May 2018.

The new regulations have been formally posted in the Canada Gazette for a 75-day comment period.

The requirement for back-up visibility brings Canadian standards in line with those in the United States.

The department says it’s a safety measure because children, disabled persons, the elderly and others are vulnerable to back-up mishaps.

It estimates that such accidents killed 27 people and injured more than 1,500 from 2004 to 2009.

The new requirement applies to new light vehicles, including passenger cars, light trucks, three-wheelers and small vans and buses.

“This helps children be seen and provides Canadians with one of the best safety technology systems to reduce back-over collisions,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement.

The United States made a similar announcement in 2014, with a 2018 deadline for compliance.

“The objective of this proposal is to align the Canadian and United States safety regulations, to provide Canadians with the same level of protection under the law related to back-over crashes offered to residents of the United States and to satisfy vehicle manufacturers’ call to eliminate regulatory differences between Canada and the United States,” Transport Canada said.

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13 Jan

Apple’s iPhone 7 won’t have a headphone jack. What it means for consumers

Yes, the talk is true: Apple Inc.’s iPhone 7 will not have a headphone jack.

What does this mean for consumers? Read on.

Why is Apple doing this?

The company line? “Courage.” That’s according to Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, who spent part of Wednesday singing the praises of audio via Lightning port.

But also, the tech giant is trying to funnel consumer cash to other products.

Chief among them are new wireless headphones known as AirPods.

Scrapping the headphone jack may also drive some consumers to purchase wireless headphones from Beats Electronics, which Apple purchased for $3.2-billion (U.S.) in 2014.

Will I have to buy new headphones?

No. The purchase of an iPhone 7 will come with a new set of headphones that plug into the Lightning port, which is also used for charging the smartphone.

I like my current headphones. Can I still use them?

Yes. If they’re wireless Bluetooth headphones, you’re fine. But if they’re intended for a traditional jack, you’ll need to plug those headphones into a dongle.

What on Earth is a dongle?

A dongle is a small piece of hardware that plugs into a device to allow for expanded functionality. In this case, the dongle will plug into your Lightning port, and your “old-school” headphones will plug into the dongle. Apple is including a dongle with the purchase of an iPhone 7.

What if I need the Lightning port for multiple uses simultaneously?

Good point. Apple didn’t address that situation. (Presumably, the company would like you to use AirPods or wireless Beats headphones while charging your phone.) But some tech sites have proposed a multiuse dongle – yes, another dongle – as a potential workaround.

Was scrapping the headphone jack expected?

It was. In the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s Apple event, sources were telling various media outlets this would happen.

Not to mention that an Amazon webpage of iPhone 7 accessories was published shortly before the event. The page touted Bluetooth headphones, among other products, and photos showed a lack of headphone jack next to the Lightning port.

What was less certain is what would be included in the iPhone 7 box. ‘Yes’ to Lightning-port headphones and dongle. ‘No’ to AirPods.

Are people freaking out?

Some definitely were.

Here’s what Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of The Verge, wrote in June, as evidence of the change was piling up: “What exciting times for phones! We’re so out of ideas that actively making them shittier and more user-hostile is the only innovation left.”

Of course, there was much snickering on Twitter about the potential to lose AirPods and dongles. Here’s some of that reaction:

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11 Jan

Bieber’s Instagram deletion reflects social media’s harassment problem

The most famous Justin on Instagram is no longer named Bieber. The Canadian pop singer appears to have deleted his account following incidents of harassment and bickering with fans. Millions of Beliebers anticipating photos of his latest beach vacation, backstage guest or shopping trip are now warned “Sorry, this page isn’t available.”

The Biebs didn’t just lock his account (which would make it available only to the people he has also followed), he deleted it. This deployment of the nuclear option marks the latest example of a celebrity breaking up with a social network that previously acted as a useful tool for fan interaction.

How could the 22-year-old pride of Stratford, Ont., do this to the 77.8 million followers he had accumulated on the photo-based social network? What appears to have happened was an uproar by “stans” – the portmanteau of “stalker” and “fan” that has come to define social-media users who post primarily about an object of their obsession – who disapprove of his new girlfriend, 17-year-old Sofia Richie (daughter of singer Lionel).

The trouble started in the last few weeks while Bieber was on tour. He began posting pics of the two hanging out doing couply things in Japan, and his stans responded by suggesting Richie kill herself, among other unmentionably extreme messages.

“I’m gonna make my Instagram private if you guys don’t stop the hate this is getting out of hand,” Bieber declared on his account. “If you guys are really fans you wouldn’t be so mean to people like that.” Late on Monday, he made good on his threat.

(It probably didn’t help that his high-profile ex Selena Gomez – who has 95 million Instagram followers – left comments on the post suggested that a) he didn’t value his fans and b) he was a cheater. She later deleted her comments.)

The relationship that obsessive teens – now wondering if it’s too late to say sorry – form with their heroes is always fraught, but what Bieber’s case shows is that social-media companies are also still failing to get the balance right between allowing free and open communication among users without letting it degenerate into a rage-filled pile-on.

Twitter has earned a reputation for coarseness: there are several high-profile examples of celebrities, journalists and others (mainly women) quitting the network because it hasn’t done enough to stamp out harassment. Examples include Leslie Jones of Saturday Night Live, who received a barrage of racist hate for her role in the Ghostbusters reboot, and New York Times editor Jon Weisman, who suffered a barrage of anti-Semitic attacks.

Just this week, U.S. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas shared her frustration with attacks that have dogged her since she won gold in London four years ago. “When they talk about my hair or not putting my hand over my heart or being very salty in the stands, really criticizing me… for me it was really hurtful,” she told the Associated Press.

It’s not a new thing, and not new to Twitter. Back in 2014, Zelda Williams quit after she was harassed about her recently deceased father, beloved funnyman Robin Williams. Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said “We suck at dealing with abuse” as far back as February, 2015.

More recently, trollish behaviour is taking its toll on Instagram stars, too. A few weeks ago, newly minted Star Wars star Daisy Ridley shuttered her Instagram and Twitter accounts after she was attacked for posting an anti-gun message (she later wrote that she just wanted to be on her phone less).

Twitter is now 10 years old, with 313 million users; the Facebook-owned Instagram is younger, at five years old, but also bigger and faster-growing (500 million users, 8.5 million in Canada). Both suffer from the same problem – a reluctance to moderate content aimed at users with large followings and a basic bias to let users say whatever awful thing they want.

In Twitter’s case, it’s not for lack of ability. A recent BuzzFeed investigation about the platform’s struggles with abuse included an extraordinary detail: the company previously used algorithmic pre-moderation of troll accounts, as well as a team of human moderators, to stop a live Q&A with U.S. President Barack Obama from turning into a racist tire fire – a plan that was kept secret even from some members of the Twitter product team. But it still has no plans to make such a feature available to regular users.

Instagram’s community standards documentation, on the other hand, says that talk that might get a user banned when aimed at a regular person — which includes “credible threats or hate speech … personal information meant to harass someone, and repeated unwanted messages” — is fair game if directed at a celebrity.

“We do generally allow stronger conversation around people who are featured in the news or have a large public audience due to their profession or chosen activities,” it reads. Basically, public personalities are asking for it.

In July, Instagram rolled out a “comment moderation” feature for all users, which is based on filtering posts with keywords that are “reported as offensive,” an opt-in feature that should help the company stop clearly racist, sexist and hateful language. It’s also testing a feature with select celebrities that would help them ban customized words, which is useful given that keyword filters often become a cat-and-mouse game, with determined harassers finding new ways to say cruel things.

Another feature the company is testing, according to a spokesperson, is a way to simply turn comments off on publicly available Instagram posts. That kind of simple comment-limiting step has been available to newspapers and other online publishers for more than a decade, but is still not available to the average Instagram user. Richie appears to be part of the test group for that system; she still has a public account with pictures of her with Bieber, including one with 195,000 likes but no comments. Further down her feed, the stans have begun to post hundreds of comments on unrelated photos that blame her for Bieber’s move, posts that also frequently contain snake and poop emojis.

But this solution, and those Twitter has made widely available, have one thing in common: They still require the average user to do most of the work of manually deleting unwanted comments and blocking or reporting unwanted posters. The only real solutions for individuals who are overwhelmed is to go private (which would dramatically limit celebrity connections with fans) or, like the Biebs, delete their accounts entirely.

Famous people aren’t the only reason people join social media, but it’s pretty bad marketing when your most influential users tell their fans “this platform is not for me.” On the bright side, Bieber fans missing more than just his body on Instagram may note that there’s another Canadian Justin prone to taking his shirt off. One Mr. Trudeau, a politician of some sort, is now in sole possession of the top “Justin” related search result.

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