As GE and Amazon move on, Google expands presence in Boston and NYC

NYC and Boston were handed huge setbacks this week when Amazon and GE decided to bail on their commitments to build headquarters in the respective cities on the same day. But it’s worth pointing out that while these large tech organizations were pulling out, Google was expanding in both locations. Yesterday upon hearing about Amazon’s decision […]

NYC and Boston were handed huge setbacks this week when Amazon and GE decided to bail on their commitments to build headquarters in the respective cities on the same day. But it’s worth pointing out that while these large tech organizations were pulling out, Google was expanding in both locations.

Yesterday upon hearing about Amazon’s decision to scrap its HQ2 plans in Long Island City, New York City Mayor De Blasio had this to say: “Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity. We have the best talent in the world and every day we are growing a stronger and fairer economy for everyone. If Amazon can’t recognize what that’s worth, its competitors will.” One of them already has. Google had already announced a billion dollar expansion in Hudson Square at the end of last year.

In fact, the company is pouring billions into NYC real estate with plans to double its 7000 person workforce over the next 10 years. As TechCrunch’s Jon Russell reported, “Our investment in New York is a huge part of our commitment to grow and invest in U.S. facilities, offices and jobs. In fact, we’re growing faster outside the Bay Area than within it, and this year opened new offices and data centers in locations like Detroit, Boulder, Los Angeles, Tennessee and Alabama,” wrote Google CFO Ruth Porat.”

Just this week, as GE was making its announcement, Google was announcing a major expansion in Cambridge, the city across the river from Boston that is home to Harvard and MIT. Kendall Square is also is home to offices from Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, Akamai, Digital Ocean and a plethora of startups.

Google will be moving into a brand new building that currently is home to the MIT Coop bookstore. It plans to grab 365,000 square feet of the new building when it’s completed, and as in NYC will be adding hundreds of new jobs to the 1500 already in place. Brian Cusack, Google Cambridge Site lead points out the company began operations in Cambridge back in 2003 and has been working on Search, Android, Cloud, YouTube, Google Play, Research, Ads and more.

“This new space will provide room for future growth and further cements our commitment to the Cambridge community. We’re proud to call this city home and will continue to support its vibrant nonprofit and growing business community,” he said in a statement.

As we learned this week, big company commitments can vanish just as quickly as they are announced, but for now at least, it appears that Google is serious about its commitment to New York and Boston and will be expanding office space and employment to the tune of thousands of jobs over the next decade.

Google Adds Haptic Feedback to Gboard for iOS

Gboard for iOS now lets you feel each button press on your iPhone. This is thanks to Google adding haptic feedback to its iOS keyboard. Android users have enjoyed haptic feedback for a while, but now Google is offering the same feature to iPhone users. What Is Haptic Feedback? Haptic feedback is exactly what the name suggests. Haptics is any form of interaction involving touch, and the feedback refers to what happens when you touch something. An extreme form is this technology is the mid-air haptics we saw at CES 2019. Gboard for Android has offered haptic feedback for a…

Read the full article: Google Adds Haptic Feedback to Gboard for iOS

Gboard for iOS now lets you feel each button press on your iPhone. This is thanks to Google adding haptic feedback to its iOS keyboard. Android users have enjoyed haptic feedback for a while, but now Google is offering the same feature to iPhone users.

What Is Haptic Feedback?

Haptic feedback is exactly what the name suggests. Haptics is any form of interaction involving touch, and the feedback refers to what happens when you touch something. An extreme form is this technology is the mid-air haptics we saw at CES 2019.

Gboard for Android has offered haptic feedback for a while, but for whatever reason, Google is only now offering the feature on Gboard for iOS too. Google has still beaten Apple to the task though, as the default iOS keyboard doesn’t offer haptic feedback.

How to Enable Haptic Feedback on Gboard for iOS

Google isn’t really making a big deal out of this. 9to5Google just happened to notice the new feature in the update notes for Gboard version 1.40. They read, “Feel your keys! You can now enable haptic feedback on key press by going to settings.”

Haptic feedback is available on all recent iPhones up to and including the iPhone 7. It isn’t enabled by default, so to enable it, click on Settings > Keyboard Setting, find “Enable haptic feedback on keypress” and toggle it across to “On”.

Once enabled, you’ll feel a small vibration through your finger every time you tap a key. This works for letters, numbers, symbols, as well as other options located within Gboard. Luckily, you can enable and disable haptic feedback at your leisure.

Download: Gboard for iOS

Don’t Forget the Default Keyboard for iOS…

Haptic feedback takes some getting used to. So, if you enable the option, our advice is to give it a chance before you disable it again. It isn’t for everyone, but it can be useful for those who need more than a visual clue that they’ve pressed a button.

When Google first launched it, we called Gboard for iOS “the best iPhone keyboard yet”. And that remains true to this day. However, the default keyboard for iOS has its plus points, and there are some essential iOS keyboard tips and tricks worth knowing.

Read the full article: Google Adds Haptic Feedback to Gboard for iOS

Did New York lose anything with Amazon’s rejection? It’s complicated.

Now that Amazon has said that it’s taking its ball and going home rather than deal with mean, pushy New Yorkers, outside observers are giving off the sense that the city (and its local politicians) are losing out for their recalcitrance. They’re wrong. New York City is running at about a 4.3% unemployment rate — […]

Now that Amazon has said that it’s taking its ball and going home rather than deal with mean, pushy New Yorkers, outside observers are giving off the sense that the city (and its local politicians) are losing out for their recalcitrance.

They’re wrong.

New York City is running at about a 4.3% unemployment rate — higher than the national average of 3.9%, but a respectable number for jobs. Amazon’s promise of 25,000 jobs (high-paying jobs) may have reduced that number, but there’s no guarantee that those jobs would be filled by New Yorkers or Queens residents more specifically — and every indication that they would have gone to Amazon employees coming from somewhere else.

Remember, Amazon employees were buying real estate in Queens before the deal was even announced.

The response that New Yorkers are idiots for not giving Amazon (one of the most valuable companies in the world) billions in tax incentives to build an office tower in one of its boroughs is another sign of how the country privileges business interests above civic ones.

There are things that New York can do to boost its local economy without giving away the store to Amazon . There are incentives that could go to businesses already in New York to establish offices in Queens.

More importantly, local Queens residents had legitimate concerns about how their neighborhood would be transformed by Amazon’s entrance into the borough.

That’s not to say that local politicians may not have overplayed their hand. New York local politics is no stranger to graft, corruption, shakedowns or funny business (I wasn’t in the room for the negotiations), but it’s safe to say that “mistakes were made” on both sides.

In the long run, Amazon would have been a benefit to the New York economy — and had the company’s executives made a good faith effort to listen to the concerns of local residents perhaps it could have come out looking like a winner.

Because there are legitimate reasons to expect Amazon to be a benefit to the New York economy. As Noah Smith wrote in Bloomberg after the deal was announced:

Amazon will pay property tax on its new Long Island City offices. It will pay corporate tax — not just on its profits, but on its capital base. Its employees, especially highly paid ones, will pay the city’s personal income tax. Those taxes, of course, will be somewhat offset by the incentives that the city has promised the company — up to $2 billion, depending on how many people the company hires and how many facilities it builds. Those incentives were a wasteful way to attract corporate investment. But in the long run, the tax revenue New York City gets from HQ2 will probably far exceed the cost.

And that’s not even taking into account Amazon’s effect on surrounding businesses and property values. Other technology companies will want to move to Queens now that Amazon is there. Their employees will spend their money locally, buying everything from lattes to MRIs. Some estimates place HQ2’s local economic boost at $17 billion a year. Even dividing that in half, and even assuming that the estimate is optimistic by a factor of 2 or 3, it seems likely that the economic benefit Queens reaps from HQ2 will quickly exceed the upfront cost — unlike, say, Wisconsin’s ill-advised Foxconn factory.

Those benefits are true, but harder to quantify for a city like New York when taken against the impact those jobs and spending would have on the fabric of the local economy and the housing, transit, and government services that new residents would demand.

The livability crisis that’s currently afflicting Seattle and San Francisco is evidence of how cities need to be careful what they wish for when it comes to the explosive growth of technology companies (and the attendant wealth that comes with it) in their metropolises.

In any event, the urban landscape of the U.S. is being radically reshaped by technology companies — creating cities that are haves and have-nots much as technology has bifurcated the national economy into digital haves and have nots.

As Mark Muro and Robert Maxim of the Brookings Institute noted in this piece for US News and World Report:

Scholars have for years suspected that tech might alter the hierarchy of cities, given its bias toward skilled workers. More than a decade ago, researchers Paul Beaudry, Mark Doms and Ethan G. Lewis showed cities that adopted personal computers earliest and fastest saw their relative wages increase the quickest. Now, there is more evidence – including in our own work – that digital technologies are contributing heavily to the divergence of metro economies and the pull away of superstar cities like Boston and San Francisco from more ordinary ones, with painful impacts.

Recently, Princeton economist Elisa Giannone demonstrated that the divergence of cities’ wages since 1980 – after decades of convergence – reflects a mix of technology’s increased rewards to highly skilled tech workers and tech-driven industry clustering. Likewise, Brookings research has shown that a short list of highly digital, often coastal tech hubs is growing even more digital and pulling farther away from the pack on measures of growth and income. What we call the “digitization of everything” is in this way exacerbating the unevenness of America’s economic landscape.

It’s far easier to make the case that Amazon’s decision to set up regional offices in Nashville will have far more positive outcomes for that city.

But making American cities compete beauty pageant-style and bend over backwards to appease a multi-billion dollar corporation is pretty gross — and a poor read of national sentiment around the roles that technology companies play in modern American society.

As an example of how to expand in a city without invoking the wrath of the local community, observers need only look at how Google is expanding in New York. The company is planning to add 14,000 jobs in the city and has committed to $1 billion in spending to upgrade its West side campuses.

Ostensibly, Google is expanding its presence in New York to compete for the talent it sees coming from the city (or coming to the city) and because New York is strategically important. Amazon’s decision to forsake New York means that it’s losing access to that talent and creating opportunities for other tech companies to come in and take its place — or for local companies to retain their edge.

Here’s hoping that New York’s local tech community can supply Queens with those 25,000 jobs by building the next Amazon — and working with the community to do it.

These days it seems like Democracy is a religion that’s replaced god with money. The pushback against Amazon shows that New York at least is adding civic responsibility into that equation somewhere.

Peltarion raises $20M for its AI platform

Peltarion, a Swedish startup founded by former execs from companies like Spotify, Skype, King, TrueCaller and Google, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series A funding round led by Euclidean Capital, the family office for hedge fund billionaire James Simons. Previous investors FAM and EQT Ventures also participated, and this round brings […]

Peltarion, a Swedish startup founded by former execs from companies like Spotify, Skype, King, TrueCaller and Google, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series A funding round led by Euclidean Capital, the family office for hedge fund billionaire James Simons. Previous investors FAM and EQT Ventures also participated, and this round brings the company’s total funding to $35 million.

There is obviously no dearth of AI platforms these days. Peltarion focus on what it calls “operational AI.” The service offers an end-to-end platform that lets you do everything from pre-processing your data to building models and putting them into production. All of this runs in the cloud and developers get access to a graphical user interface for building and testing their models. All of this, the company stresses, ensures that Peltarion’s users don’t have to deal with any of the low-level hardware or software and can instead focus on building their models.

“The speed at which AI systems can be built and deployed on the operational platform is orders of magnitude faster compared to the industry standard tools such as TensorFlow and require far fewer people and decreases the level of technical expertise needed,” Luka Crnkovic-Friis, of Peltarion’s CEO and co-founder, tells me. “All this results in more organizations being able to operationalize AI and focusing on solving problems and creating change.”

In a world where businesses have a plethora of choices, though, why use Peltarion over more established players? “Almost all of our clients are worried about lock-in to any single cloud provider,” Crnkovic-Friis said. “They tend to be fine using storage and compute as they are relatively similar across all the providers and moving to another cloud provider is possible. Equally, they are very wary of the higher-level services that AWS, GCP, Azure, and others provide as it means a complete lock-in.”

Peltarion, of course, argues that its platform doesn’t lock in its users and that other platforms take far more AI expertise to produce commercially viable AI services. The company rightly notes that, outside of the tech giants, most companies still struggle with how to use AI at scale. “They are stuck on the starting blocks, held back by two primary barriers to progress: immature patchwork technology and skills shortage,” said Crnkovic-Friis.

The company will use the new funding to expand its development team and its teams working with its community and partners. It’ll also use the new funding for growth initiatives in the U.S. and other markets.

Europe agrees platform rules to tackle unfair business practices

The European Union’s political institutions have reached agreement over new rules designed to boost transparency around online platform businesses and curb unfair practices to support traders and other businesses that rely on digital intermediaries for discovery and sales. The European Commission proposed a regulation for fairness and transparency in online platform trading last April. And late yesterday […]

The European Union’s political institutions have reached agreement over new rules designed to boost transparency around online platform businesses and curb unfair practices to support traders and other businesses that rely on digital intermediaries for discovery and sales.

The European Commission proposed a regulation for fairness and transparency in online platform trading last April. And late yesterday the European Parliament, Council of the EU and Commission reached a political deal on regulating the business environment of platforms, announcing the accord in a press release today.

The political agreement paves the way for adoption and publication of the regulation, likely later this year. The rules will apply 12 months after that point.

Online platform intermediaries such as ecommerce marketplaces and search engines are covered by the new rules if they provide services to businesses established in the EU and which offer goods or services to consumers located in the EU.

The Commission estimates there are some 7,000 such platforms and marketplaces which will be covered by the regulation, noting this includes “world giants as well as very small start-ups”.

Under the new rules, sudden and unexpected account suspensions will be banned — with the Commission saying platforms will have to provide “clear reasons” for any termination and also possibilities for appeal.

Terms and conditions must also be “easily available and provided in plain and intelligible language”.

There must also be advance notice of changes — of at least 15 days, with longer notice periods applying for more complex changes.

For search engines the focus is on ranking transparency. And on that front dominant search engine Google has attracted more than its fair share of criticism in Europe from a range of rivals (not all of whom are European).

In 2017, the search giant was also slapped with a $2.7BN antitrust fine related to its price comparison service, Google Shopping. The EC found Google had systematically given prominent placement to its own search comparison service while also demoting rival services in search results. (Google rejects the findings and is appealing.)

Given the history of criticism of Google’s platform business practices, and the multi-year regulatory tug of war over anti-competitive impacts, the new transparency provisions look intended to make it harder for a dominant search player to use its market power against rivals.

Changing the online marketplace

The importance of legislating for platform fairness was flagged by the Commission’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, last summer — when she handed Google another very large fine ($5BN) for anti-competitive behavior related to its mobile platform Android.

Vestager said then she wasn’t sure breaking Google up would be an effective competition fix, preferring to push for remedies to support “more players to have a real go”, as her Android decision attempts to do. But she also stressed the importance of “legislation that will ensure that you have transparency and fairness in the business to platform relationship”.

If businesses have legal means to find out why, for example, their traffic has stopped and what they can do to get it back that will “change the marketplace, and it will change the way we are protected as consumers but also as businesses”, she argued.

Just such a change is now in sight thanks to EU political accord on the issue.

The regulation represents the first such rules for online platforms in Europe and — commissioners’ contend — anywhere in the world.

“Our target is to outlaw some of the most unfair practices and create a benchmark for transparency, at the same time safeguarding the great advantages of online platforms both for consumers and for businesses,” said Andrus Ansip, VP for the EU’s Digital Single Market initiative in a statement.

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, commissioner for internal market, industry, entrepreneurship, and SMEs, added that the rules are “especially designed with the millions of SMEs in mind”.

“Many of them do not have the bargaining muscle to enter into a dispute with a big platform, but with these new rules they have a new safety net and will no longer worry about being randomly kicked off a platform, or intransparent ranking in search results,” she said in another supporting statement.

In a factsheet about the new rules, the Commission specifies they cover third-party ecommerce market places (e.g. Amazon Marketplace, eBay, Fnac Marketplace, etc.); app stores (e.g. Google Play, Apple App Store, Microsoft Store etc.); social media for business (e.g. Facebook pages, Instagram used by makers/artists etc.); and price comparison tools (e.g. Skyscanner, Google Shopping etc.).

The regulation does not target every online platform. For example, it does not cover online advertising (or b2b ad exchanges), payment services, SEO services or services that do not intermediate direct transactions between businesses and consumers.

The Commission also notes that online retailers that sell their own brand products and/or don’t rely on third party sellers on their own platform are also excluded from the regulation, such as retailers of brands or supermarkets.

Where transparency is concerned, the rules require that regulated marketplaces and search engines disclose the main parameters they use to rank goods and services on their site “to help sellers understand how to optimise their presence” — with the Commission saying the aim is to support sellers without allowing gaming of the ranking system.

Some platform business practices will also require mandatory disclosure — such as for platforms that not only provide a marketplace for sellers but sell on their platform themselves, as does Amazon for example.

The ecommerce giant’s use of merchant data remains under scrutiny in the EU. Vestager revealed a preliminary antitrust probe of Amazon last fall — when she said her department was gathering information to “try to get a full picture”. She said her concern is dual platforms could gain an unfair advantage as a consequence of access to merchants’ data.

And, again, the incoming transparency rules look intended to shrink that risk — requiring what the Commission couches as exhaustive disclosure of “any advantage” a platform may give to their own products over others.

“They must also disclose what data they collect, and how they use it — and in particular how such data is shared with other business partners they have,” it continues, noting also that: “Where personal data is concerned, the rules of the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] apply.”

(GDPR of course places further transparency requirements on platforms by, for example, empowering individuals to request any personal data held on them, as well as the reasons why their information is being processed.)

The platform regulation also includes new avenues for dispute resolution by requiring platforms set up an internal complaint-handling system to assist business users.

“Only the smallest platforms in terms of head count or turnover will be exempt from this obligation,” the Commission notes. (The exemption limit is set at fewer than 50 staff and less than €10M revenue.)

It also says: “Platforms will have to provide businesses with more options to resolve a potential problem through mediators. This will help resolve more issues out of court, saving businesses time and money.”

But, at the same time, the new rules allow business associations to take platforms to court to stop any non-compliance — mirroring a provision in the GDPR which also allows for collective enforcement and redress of individual privacy rights (where Member States adopt it).

“This will help overcome fear of retaliation, and lower the cost of court cases for individual businesses, when the new rules are not followed,” the Commission argues.

“In addition, Member States can appoint public authorities with enforcement powers, if they wish, and businesses can turn to those authorities.”

One component of the regulation that appears to be being left up to EU Member States to tackle is penalties for non-compliance — with no clear regime of fines set out (as there is in GDPR). So it’s not clear whether the platform regulation might not have rather more bark than bite, at least initially.

“Member States shall need to take measures that are sufficiently dissuasive to ensure that the online intermediation platforms and search engines comply with the requirements in the Regulation,” the Commission writes in a section of its factsheet dealing with how to make sure platforms respect the new rules.

It also points again to the provision allowing business associations or organisations to take action in national courts on behalf of members — saying this offers a legal route to “stop or prohibit non-compliance with one or more of the requirements of the Regulation”. So, er, expect lawsuits.

The Commission says the rules will be subject to review within 18 months after they come into force — in a bid to ensure the regulation keeps pace with fast-paced tech developments.

A dedicated Online Platform Observatory has been established in the EU for the purpose of “monitoring the evolution of the market and the effective implementation of the rules”, it adds.

The 5 Best Google+ Alternatives to Use Instead

google-plus-alternatives

Google+ is no more. After several years of underdevelopment, the consumer version of Google+ is shutting down on April 2, 2019. This leaves a loyal fanbase looking for a new home. Google+ might never have been able to rival the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but it had some great features that aren’t easily replicated elsewhere. With that in mind, here are the best Google+ alternatives that you need to consider. 1. MeWe There’s a Google+ community called Google+ Mass Migration. It has almost 5,000 members, many of whom are the leaders of existing large Google+ communities that are looking…

Read the full article: The 5 Best Google+ Alternatives to Use Instead

google-plus-alternatives

Google+ is no more. After several years of underdevelopment, the consumer version of Google+ is shutting down on April 2, 2019.

This leaves a loyal fanbase looking for a new home. Google+ might never have been able to rival the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but it had some great features that aren’t easily replicated elsewhere.

With that in mind, here are the best Google+ alternatives that you need to consider.

1. MeWe

There’s a Google+ community called Google+ Mass Migration. It has almost 5,000 members, many of whom are the leaders of existing large Google+ communities that are looking for a new home.

The most common suggestion is MeWe. It is a privacy-focused network. There are no ads, no user tracking, and no data mining.

There are three types of group: Private (requires invite), Selective (approval needed to join), and Open. Each group has a chat (which is often unmoderated) which supports video and voice calls. MeWe also has its own version of staple Google+ features such as Circles and Collections. It also allows you to follow hashtags.

Uniquely in this list, MeWe comes closest to replicating Google+’s integration with Google Drive and Google Photos. All users get 8GB of free cloud space; you can upgrade it to 50GB for $4.99/month.

MeWe’s MeWePRO service might tempt businesses that want to move away from Google+. It costs $75 per year, per employee, though it is free for educational and non-profit organizations.

2. Mastodon

Many Google+ users are keen to avoid the same fate befalling them for a second time. Because even the most prominent social networks aren’t immune from deletion. You need to look no further than the rise and fall of MySpace for evidence of this.

A popular potential replacement for Google+, therefore, is Mastodon. Unlike regular social networks, Mastodon is decentralized. Anyone can host their own server node in the network.

The decentralized nature of the app also means there is much less regulation. Servers can set their own moderation policies and Terms of Service. For Google+ users who want to break free of their corporate master, it is an appealing proposition.

From a features standpoint, Mastodon is similar to Twitter. Indeed, the network’s main interface looks suspiciously like TweetDeck. The microblogging approach is ideal for Google+ communities who spend a lot of time chatting rather than posting links or other content.

3. Diaspora

diaspora social network

Like Mastodon, Diaspora is a decentralized network. It shares some similar features with the outgoing Google+.

Perhaps most notable is the Aspects tool. It’s a reimagined version of the Google+ circles which allow you to organize people into categories depending on who they are. When you create content, you can then choose to only share with one (or several) of your aspects.

Furthermore, like Google+, the network does not have a real-name policy (Facebook, on the other hand, does). Reshares and @ mentions are both supported.

The big downside is the lack of groups. You can use hashtags to see related content, but it’s not a suitable replacement for large Google+ communities who are looking for a new home.

Anecdotally, many Google+ users have already made their decision and migrated to Diaspora. At the very least, it is worth making an account to see whether your friends have made the jump.

Diaspora has 650,000 users compared to 1.5 million on Mastodon.

4. Minds

minds social network posts

Minds is probably the network that’s most visually similar to Google+ on this list. If you want a replacement where you’ll instantly feel comfortable, it’s worth checking out.

Posts are displayed in three columns with content from people and groups you follow appearing in chronological order. The site also shares some of Reddit’s characteristics; there is an upvote and downvote button.

Under-the-hood, however, Minds and Google+ could not be more different. Minds uses a blockchain, and users are paid in Minds Tokens for creating popular content. The token is Ethereum-based. You can trade it in for rewards, buy ad space, or use it for P2P content subscriptions.

Remember, even though Minds is blockchain-based, it is still a private company. It makes no promises regarding your data and privacy, and that will immediately put off some users.

5. BuddyPress

buddypress profile example

BuddyPress isn’t like a traditional social network; you cannot merely sign up and get cracking.

Instead, BuddyPress is a WordPress plugin that provides a way for groups and communities to create their own private social networks. It is ideal for gamers, sports teams, colleagues, or people who share the same hobby to discuss and develop their passion.

If you’re a Google+ community owner who’s competent with WordPress, you will struggle to find a better home for your group.

Some of the best features of BuddyPress include customizable profile fields, different content privacy settings, and the ability to create smaller micro-groups under a single BuddyPress install.

BuddyPress also includes a private messaging feature and a near-endless list of third-party plugins for additional features.

What About Facebook?

It perhaps should come as no surprise to learn that a lot of Google+ users are vehemently opposed to using Facebook as a Google+ alternative.

On the face of it, Facebook is a suitable replacement; it has groups, it has pages, and it has an unrivaled size of userbase.

But it’s still Facebook, and many Google+ users chose the outgoing network specifically because it wasn’t Mark Zuckerberg’s ubiquitous social network. Furthermore, they mostly made that decision before the company’s recent privacy practices came to light. Don’t expect many communities to end up back in the clutches of Facebook.

Goodbye, Google+

The sad truth for Google+ aficionados is that there is no ideal replacement. The five networks we’ve looked at offer similar features, but they’re not exactly the same.

Users are the ones who lead and define a social network’s ambiance. For any of the networks to succeed as a Google+ replacement, they’ll need to attract the majority of the old userbase. That’s very difficult—if not impossible—to achieve.

If you’d like to learn about more possible Google+ alternatives, you should check out the best Facebook alternatives and the best Twitter alternatives.

Read the full article: The 5 Best Google+ Alternatives to Use Instead

Goldman Sachs: Google Paid Apple $9.5 Billion In 2018, Here’s Why

Multiple sources have had a go at guessing the amount of money that Apple gets from Google to keep its services at the top of the tree on iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Now, it’s Goldman Sachs’ turn, with $9.5 billion the number it believes Google paid Appl…

Multiple sources have had a go at guessing the amount of money that Apple gets from Google to keep its services at the top of the tree on iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Now, it’s Goldman Sachs’ turn, with $9.5 billion the number it believes Google paid Apple during 2018.


[ Continue reading this over at RedmondPie.com ]

Google says it’ll invest $13B in U.S. data centers and offices this year

Google today announced that it will invest $13 billion in data centers and offices across the U.S. in 2019. That’s up from $9 billion in investments last year. Many of these investments will go to states like Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia, where Google plans new or expanded data centers. Though […]

Google today announced that it will invest $13 billion in data centers and offices across the U.S. in 2019. That’s up from $9 billion in investments last year. Many of these investments will go to states like Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia, where Google plans new or expanded data centers. Though like most years, it’ll also continue to expand many of its existing offices in Seattle, Chicago and New York, as well as in its home state of California.

Given Google’s push for more cloud customers, it’s also interesting to see that the company continues to expand its data center presence across the country. Google will soon open its first data centers in Nevada, Nebraska, Ohio and Texas, for example, and it will expand its Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia data centers. Google clearly isn’t slowing down in its race to compete with AWS and Azure.

“These new investments will give us the capacity to hire tens of thousands of employees, and enable the creation of more than 10,000 new construction jobs in Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai writes today. “With this new investment, Google will now have a home in 24 total states, including data centers in 13 communities. 2019 marks the second year in a row we’ll be growing faster outside of the Bay Area than in it.”

Given the current backlash against many tech companies and automation in general, it’s probably no surprise that Google wants to emphasize the number of jobs it is creating (and especially jobs in Middle America). The construction jobs are obviously temporary, though, and data centers don’t need a lot of employees to run once they are up and running. Still, Google promises that this will give it the “capacity to hire tens of thousands of employees.”

Manipulating an Indian politician’s tweets is worryingly easy to do

Here’s a concerning story from India, where the upcoming election is putting the use of social media in the spotlight. While the Indian government is putting Facebook, Google and other companies under pressure to prevent their digital platforms from being used for election manipulation, a journalist has demonstrated just how easy it is to control […]

Here’s a concerning story from India, where the upcoming election is putting the use of social media in the spotlight.

While the Indian government is putting Facebook, Google and other companies under pressure to prevent their digital platforms from being used for election manipulation, a journalist has demonstrated just how easy it is to control the social media messages that published by government ministers.

Pon Radhakrishnan, India’s minister of state for finance and shipping, published a series of puzzling tweets today after Pratik Sinha, a co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, accessed a Google document of prepared statements and tinkered with the content.

Among the statements tweeted out, Radhakrishnan said Prime Minister Modi’s government had failed the middle classes and not made development on improving the country’s general welfare. Sinha’s edits also led to the official BJP Assam Pradesh account proclaiming that the Prime Minister had destroyed all villages and made women slaves to cooking.

These are the opposite of the partisan messages that the accounts intended to send.

The messages were held in an unlocked Google document that contained a range of tweets compiled for the Twitter accounts. Sinha managed to access the document and doctor the messages into improbable statements — which he has done before — in order to show the shocking lack of security and processes behind the social media content.

Sinha said he made the edits “to demonstrate how dangerous this is from the security standpoint for this country.”

“I had fun but it could have disastrous consequences,” he told TechCrunch in a phone interview. “This is a massive security issue from the point of view of a democracy.”

Sinha said he was able to access the document — which was not restricted or locked to prevent changes — through a WhatsApp group that is run by members of the party. Declining to give specifics, he said he had managed to infiltrate the group and thus gain access to a flow of party and government information and, even more surprisingly, get right into the documents and edit them.

What’s equally as stunning is that, even with the message twisted 180 degrees, their content didn’t raise an alarm. The tweets were still loaded and published without any realization. It was only after Sinha went public with the results that Radhakrishnan and BJP Assam Pradesh account begin to delete them.

The Indian government is rightly grilling Facebook and Google to prevent its platform being abused around the election, as evidence suggested happened in the U.S. Presidential election and the U.K’s Brexit vote, but members of the government themselves should reflect on the security of their own systems, too. It would be too easy for these poor systems to be exploited.

Autonomous truck startup TuSimple hits unicorn status in latest round

Another autonomous vehicle unicorn has joined the herd. TuSimple, a self-driving truck startup running daily routes for customers in Arizona, has raised $95 million in a Series D funding round led by Sina Corp. as the company prepares to scale up its commercial autonomous fleet to more than 50 trucks by June. The startup, which launched […]

Another autonomous vehicle unicorn has joined the herd.

TuSimple, a self-driving truck startup running daily routes for customers in Arizona, has raised $95 million in a Series D funding round led by Sina Corp. as the company prepares to scale up its commercial autonomous fleet to more than 50 trucks by June.

The startup, which launched in 2015 and has operations in San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, has a post-money of $1.095 billion (aka unicorn status). TuSimple has raised $178 million to date in rounds that have included backers such as Nvidia and ZP Capital. Sina, operator of China’s biggest microblogging site Weibo, is one of TuSimple’s earliest investors. Composite Capital, a Hong Kong-based investment firm and previous investor, also participated in this latest round.

TuSimple launched when the burgeoning AV ecosystem of investors, academics turned entrepreneurs, and early self-driving tech pioneers, were focused more on the development of autonomous passenger vehicles, namely robotaxis.

Autonomous trucking existed in relative obscurity until high-profile engineers from Google launched Otto, a self-driving truck startup that was quickly acquired by Uber in August 2016. Then came the reveal of the Tesla Semi and the founding of several autonomous trucking startups including Starsky Robotics and Embark.

Suddenly, it seemed people had woken up to the economic opportunity that could be achieved — just maybe — with trucks.

Meanwhile, TuSimple quietly scaled. In late 2017, TuSimple raised $55 million with plans to use those funds to scale up testing to two full truck fleets in China and the U.S. By 2018, TuSimple started testing on public roads, beginning with a 120-mile highway stretch between Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona and another segment in Shanghai.

“Autonomous driving is one of the most complex AI systems humans have ever built. After three years of intense focus to reach our technical goals, we have moved beyond research into the serious work of building a commercial solution,” TuSimple founder, president and CTO Xiaodi Hou said.

Today, TuSimple is taking three to five fully autonomous trips per day for customers on three different routes in Arizona. All of these trips have two safety engineers, one who is behind the wheel, and another monitoring the data pouring in during each trip. TuSimple says these daily trips allow it to earn revenue while it validates its Level 4 autonomous system, a designation by SAE that means the vehicle takes over all of the driving in certain conditions. TuSimple has 12 contracted customers.

Now, it’s ready to ramp up further, in terms of its fleet size and partnerships. TuSimple plans to expand its daily “fully-autonomous” commercial deliveries to Texas. The company also plans to use this influx of capital to fund what it describes as “critical joint production programs” with OEM, Tier 1 suppliers and sensors partners. Truck manufacturing suppliers are working with TuSimple on the integration of autonomous software with powertrain, braking and steering systems. The company says this is “an essential step for the commercial production and operation of self-driving trucks.”

TuSimple isn’t disclosing its customers or even suppliers yet. Although, TuSimple did reveal last month at CES that it’s working with Tier 1 supplier Cummins Inc. to enable powertrain integration with its autonomous technologies.

TuSimple’s focus on cameras

Other AV companies, namely low-speed autonomous passenger vehicles have focused on LiDAR (light detection and ranging lasers) to improve the perception of the vehicle, arguably one of the most difficult tasks of automated driving. But for TuSimple, “laser isn’t the sauce.”

Instead, TuSimple has developed a camera-centric perception solution. The company does use LiDAR for its mapping and some data collection. However, LiDAR has its limitations in the high-speed world of trucking, Hou explained to TechCrunch in a previous interview.

Even its name, which is an interlingual pun that essentially means “simple image” or simple image analysis, affirms TuSimple’s approach.

It appears that has paid off. LiDAR can detect objects like cars to about 250 meters, although the optimal quality falters past 150 meters. TuSimple says its camera-based system has a vision range of 1,000 meters.

As a reluctant participant in AV demos, this TechCrunch reporter headed to TuSimple’s Tucson operations recently armed with lots of curiosity and a healthy dose of skepticism.

The TuSimple truck, two safety engineers in the front, and Hou and myself in the back of the cab, entered into autonomous mode in the company parking lot as it approached a surface road. From here, the truck drove the route in autonomous mode for the entire 65-mile or so trip. This route began with a left turn onto a surface road, then onto an unprotected left at a traffic light, a railroad crossing, and finally an entrance onto the highway. The truck continued for 30 miles before exiting the interstate, then maneuvering back onto the highway from the trip back.

A display in the cab allowed us to see what the truck was seeing, or more specifically what the camera-based system sees. TuSimple’s camera combined with software algorithms allows the system to track distance, relative speed and vehicle type of the various objects spotted while on the road and has an intention prediction feature that allows the vehicle to understand what those objects might do.

The end result, at least for this demo, was a ride along in an autonomous truck that was able to accomplish a number of complicated tasks, including anticipating congestion ahead and making a lane change in a smooth, uninterrupted movement — no disc braking necessary.