The European Commission Opened Investigation About Amazon



The European Commission opened a formal antitrust investigation to assess whether Amazon’s use of sensitive data from independent retailers who sell on Amazon’s marketplace is in breach of EU competition rules.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “European consumers are increasingly shopping online. E-commerce has boosted retail competition and brought more choice and better prices. We need to ensure that large online platforms don’t eliminate these benefits through anti-competitive behavior. I have therefore decided to take a very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer, to assess its compliance with EU competition rules.”

The Commission will look into:

  • The standard agreements between Amazon and marketplace sellers, which allow Amazon’s retail business to analyze and use third party seller data. In particular, the Commission will focus on whether and how the use of accumulated marketplace seller data by Amazon as a retailer affects competition.
  • The role of the data in the selection of the winners of the “Buy Box” and the impact of Amazon’s potential use of competitively sensitive marketplace seller information on that selection. The “Buy Box” is displayed prominently on Amazon and allows customers to add items from a specific retailer directly into their shopping carts. Winning the “Buy Box” seems key for marketplace sellers as a vast majority of transactions are done through it.

The Commission states that there is no legal deadline for bringing and antitrust investigation to an end, and that it has informed Amazon and the competition authorities of Member States that it has opened proceedings in this case.

The Verge reported that the antitrust announcement happened on the same day that Amazon announced changes to its third-party seller service agreement in response to a separate antitrust investigation by German regulators.

It appears that we won’t know how the European Commission’s antitrust investigation will affect Amazon until the investigation ends. It is unclear how Amazon’s changes, made to appease German regulators, will affect the European Commission’s ruling.


Is FaceApp Storing Users’ Photos?



You’ve probably seen images of celebrities who have used FaceApp to see what they will look like when they are older. Before you give FaceApp a try, you should be aware of concerns about what the app could be doing with people’s photos.

The Guardian spoke with the FaceApp CEO, Yaroslav Goncharov, who said that only a single picture specifically chosen by the user would be uploaded from a phone and the app did not harvest a user’s entire photo library. The Guardian said this claim was backed by researchers.

Goncharov said the data was never transferred to Russia and was instead stored on US-controlled cloud computing services provided by Amazon and Google. The developer insisted that users had the right to request their photographs be removed from the server. Goncharov said his company does not share any user data with any third parties.

The Guardian rightly pointed out: “However, users ultimately have to rely on the word of the developer that the images are being removed from the system.”

CNN reported that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) sent a security alert to 2020 presidential campaigns not to use FaceApp. Bob Lord, the DNC’s chief security officer, recommended “campaign staff and people in the Democratic ecosystem” should not use the app. He added “If you or any of your staff have already used the app, we recommend that they delete the app immediately.”

The Independent reported part of FaceApp’s terms of service:

“You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform, and display your User Content and any name, username, or likeness provided in connection with your User Contenting in all media formats and channels now known or later developed without compensation to you.”

In addition, the Independent reported that FaceApp’s privacy policy “makes it clear that it is able to collect and store information from your phone and that it might be used for ads or other forms or marketing.”

It does not appear that the photos you give it are being harvested by Russia. That said, I personally don’t feel like FaceApp is making it clear to users how their photos will be used, or what information it can glean from their phones. This bothers me enough to steer clear of the app.


Back in Blubrry Studio #1382



I am back in the Blubrry studio and excited to get started putting it together to be able to do video in the next couple of weeks. Lots of work to make that happen and make it look good but I am excited that I am getting close to that reality. Work on the Michigan studio will begin in earnest mid-next week. Hope you enjoy the show lot’s to cover.

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Pluribus AI Bot Beat Pros in Six-Player Poker



Pluribus is the first AI bot capable of beating human experts in six-player no-limit Hold’em, the most widely played poker format in the world. It makes me think of AlphaZero, an AI system that taught itself how to master chess, shogi, and Go. AlphaZero was created by DeepMind.

Pluribus is a new AI bot that was created in a collaboration between Facebook and Carnegie Mellon University. In recent years, new AI methods have been able to beat top humans in poker if there is only one opponent. But developing an AI system capable of defeating elite players in full-scale poker with multiple opponents at the table was widely recognized as the key remaining milestone.

Pluribus has defeated pro poker players in both a “five AIs + one human player” format and a “one AI + five human players” format.

If each chip was worth a dollar, Pluribus would have won an average of about $5 per hand and would have made about $1,000/hour playing against five human players. These results are considered a decisive margin of victory by poker professionals.

There is a lot of detail in the Facebook post about Pluribus, including the AI bot’s blueprint strategy and information about how it stacked up against humans in the poker games. The post also includes some comments from the human professional poker players who share their thoughts about playing against Pluribus.

It has been said that robots are coming to take our jobs. In some industries, they already have pushed out the human workers. Should we now start to worry that robots may someday replace humans players in games? I suppose it might be possible that, in the future, AI bots will have replaced all the humans on eSports teams. That might be fun to watch once, but I think it would get really boring after that.


Studio Design is 90% Complete #1381



The new GNC Studio Design is 90% complete and I have to get the colors locked in the pricing was also sent to me and its a bit more than I had planned on but I will see if I can fit it in the budget. I am quite excited to be in a position to reveal the design in the coming weeks. My travel schedule will get to a more even keel starting next week with not as extensive travel. I am honestly ready to be back in a standard studio setup the show is never the same when I am on the road.

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Google Discusses Safeguarding Speech Data After Leak



Tim Verheyden, a journalist with Belgian public broadcaster VRT, gained access to more than 1,000 audio files from a Google contractor. The contractor was part of a workforce paid to review some audio captured by Google Assistant, smart speakers, phones, and security cameras.

While most of those recording were intended (for example, people asking for weather data), others were not. In about 150 of the recordings, Google Assistant appeared to have activated incorrectly after mishearing its wake word.The audio captured includes private conversations.

Today, Google posted information on The Keyword blog about their processes to safeguard speech data. In it, Google acknowledges the leaked Dutch audio data.

We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data. Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducing a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.

Google admitted that language experts review and transcribe a small set of queries to help Google better understand those languages. Part of the blog post involves Google explaining how to activate Google Assistant and insisting that devices that have Google Assistant built in “rarely” experience a “false accept”.

To me, it feels like Google is trying to direct people’s attention to the language reviewer who leaked some of the “rarely” recorded speech after a “false accept”. Google is trying to blame the messenger (the language reviewer and/or the VRT broadcaster).

In doing so, Google is trying to deflect attention away from its lack of responsibility with the voice data Google Assistant records. The leak of the unintentionally recorded speech data makes it clear that Google is recording, and keeping, a whole lot of audio that people never intended Google Assistant to grab. That’s not ok.

That said, Google explains that it will provide users with tools to manage and control the data stored in their account. You can turn off storing audio data completely, or choose to auto-delete data every 3 months or 18 months. But, how will we know, for certain, that Google isn’t keeping a copy for itself?


Apple Removed the Zoom Vulnerability



Good news for Mac users who had Zoom installed on their computers! TechCrunch reported that Apple has released a silent update for Mac users that removes a vulnerable component in Zoom. The update does not require any user interaction and is deployed automatically.

Apple often pushes silent signature updates to Macs to thwart known malware – similar to an anti-malware service – but it’s rare for Apple to take action publicly against a known or popular app. The company said it pushed the update to protect users from the risks posed by the exposed web server.

TechCrunch quoted Zoom spokesperson Priscilla McCathy who said (in part): “We are happy to have worked with Apple on testing this update.”

Apple’s update comes after Zoom released a fix for the vulnerability that enabled nefarious people to put a link into a website that would automatically cause a Zoom user to connect to Zoom with their video running.

The patch does two things. It removes the local web server entirely, once the Zoom client has been updated. In other words, it completely removes the local web sever from a Mac. The patch also allows users to manually uninstall Zoom.

Mac users may see a pop-up in Zoom that tells them to update their Zoom client. There is a link on the Zoom blog where you can download the update. Or, you can check for updates by opening your Zoom app window.