Posts tagged with "Facebook"

Netflix plans to offer video games in push beyond films and TV

July 19, 2021

Netflixmarking its first big move beyond TV shows and films—is planning an expansion into video games and has hired a former Electronic Arts and Facebook executive to lead the effort, Fortune Magazine reports.

Mike Verdu will join Netflix as vice president of Game Development, reporting to COO Greg Peters, the company said on Wednesday, July17. Verdu was previously Facebook’s vice president in charge of working with developers to bring games and other content to Oculus virtual-reality headsets.

In Verdu, the company has an executive who worked on popular mobile games at Electronic Arts, including titles in the Sims, Plants vs. Zombies and Star Wars franchises. He also served as chief creative officer for Zynga between 2009 and 2012.

The idea, according to a source, is to offer video games on Netflix’s streaming platform within the next year, Fortune says. The games will appear alongside current fare as a new programming genre—similar to what Netflix did with documentaries and stand-up specials. The company doesn’t currently plan to charge extra for the content, said the source, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private.

Netflix has been seeking ways to keep growing, especially in more saturated markets such as the United States. That’s included building out its kids’ programmingopening an online shop to sell merchandise, and tapping Steven Spielberg to bring more prestigious movies to its lineup.

The company remains well ahead of streaming rivals such as Disney+ or HBO Max, Fortune notes, but it added fewer subscribers than expected in its most recently reported quarter.

Netflix will be building out its gaming team in the coming months, according to the person familiar with the matter. The company has already started advertising for game-development related positions on its website.

Ultimately, the move may make it easier for Netflix to justify price increases in coming years. Games also serve the purpose of helping market existing shows.

Netflix has previously licensed the rights to games based on its shows—including Stranger Thing—but this new initiative is much larger in scope. The Los Gatos, California-based company has yet to settle on a game-development strategy, said the person.

In typical Netflix fashion, the company may start with just a few games and build from there.

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

USPS honors Yankees legend Yogi Berra with ‘Forever’ stamp

June 25, 2021

If he were here today, he would have repeated one of his most famous lines: “I want to thank everybody for making this day necessary.”

 The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp honoring the inimitable Yankees catcher Yogi Berra on June 24. This Forever stamp was dedicated during a ceremony at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, New Jersey, and is now being sold at Post Office locations nationwide and online at usps.com/yogiberrastamp.

News about the stamp is being shared on social media using the hashtags,  #YogiBerraStamp and #BaseballStamps.

“We hope this stamp will serve as a reminder of Yogi’s larger than life personality — both on and off the field,” said Ron A. Bloom, chairman, U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors. Bloom was joined for the ceremony by  Emmy Award-winning sportscaster Bob Costas; and Larry, Tim and Dale Berra, sons of Yogi Berra. The ceremony can be viewed on the Postal Service Facebook and Twitter pages.

“The Berra family wishes to thank the U.S. Postal Service for honoring our father with a Forever stamp for his prowess as a baseball icon who demonstrated the right way to earn the respect of family, friends, competitors and people everywhere,” the family said in a statement.

Research contact: @USPS

Andy Cohen seeks help in search for missing childhood friend who disappeared two weeks ago

June 7, 2021

Andy Cohen is asking for help finding a childhood friend who has been missing for two weeks, People magazine reports.

The Bravo star, 53, posted a missing person’s flier on Facebook after actor and playwright Andy Neiman disappeared from the MidHudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York, on May 21.

The poster says that Neiman, 48, is “a missing vulnerable adult” who has schizophrenia. He was last seen wearing green hospital scrubs and glasses. He is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs about 165 pounds.

Cohen and Neiman went to the same camp, as well as the same high school, he told The New York Post’s Page Six.

“I’m praying for his safe return, along with a lot of folks in St Louis,” Cohen said.

GoFundMe campaign to spread awareness about Neiman’s disappearance, describes him as a “brother, son, friend, and father.”

Loved ones write that Neiman “has a history of mental illness and may be suffering from psychosis.”

“While we believe Andy is still in the local area, family, friends, search parties and police have been looking for four days and have not yet located him,” his loved ones wrote, adding that they are raising funds to hire a private investigator for the case.

Neiman has a nine-year-old daughter. In addition to being a loving dad, he is a “wonderful, spiritual guy” his sister, Emily Abramson, told Page Six.

“He is incredibly quirky with deep passions for a variety of things, especially the performing arts and Shakespeare,” she said. “His mind is greatly analytical.”

She added, “One of his talents is transmuting his understanding of Shakespeare to people of every age.”

People magazine urges anyone with information on Neiman’s disappearance to call the New York Missing Persons Clearinghouse at 1-800-346-3543.

Research contact: @people

Bunny, the dog that can ‘talk,’ starts asking existential questions

May 12, 2021

When Bunny, TikTok’s beloved talking Sheepadoodle, stared at herself in a mirror and asked “Who this?” using her augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device’s buttons, many followers believed she was having an existential crisis. Since then, the Internet-famous dog seemingly has become more interested in her own, dare we say,“sense of self,” Salon reports.

More recently on April 24, Alexis Devine, Bunny’s human parent—an artist based in Tacoma, Washington—has posted a video of Bunny pressing a button for “dog,” then a second button for “what,” a third button for “dog” and a fourth one for “is.” “Dog what dog is?” Devine narrated.

“This is happening so frequently that I’m going to add the buttons ‘animal’ ‘same’ and ‘different,'” Devine wrote in the caption which accompanied the Instagram post. 

The canine Bunny, who has 6.5 million followers on TikTok, is one of nearly 2,600 dogs and 300 cats enrolled in a project called “They Can Talk.” The study’s aim is to understand if animals can communicate with humans through AAC systems. AAC systems—such as Bunny’s giant labeled buttons that speak a single word when pressed—originally were designed to help humans with communication disorders. Yet they have been adapted to be used in language experiments with animals, such as the study Bunny is enrolled in, which is led by Federico Rossano, director of the Comparative Cognition Lab at the University of California–San Diego.

In Rossano’s study, participants receive instructions on how to set up their AAC buttons for their pets; generally, pets begin with easy words like “outside” and “play.” Pet parents set up cameras to constantly monitor the animals when they are in front of their boards—data that then is sent to the lab so that researchers examine what they say.

Now, Bunny’s followers have become obsessed with the notion that her language-learning is making her develop some kind of self-awareness. Is that possible?

And if so, does learning language have something to do with it?

“The question here is, is this a behavior that has been trained — like, look, I’m going to show you this individual here, this is ‘you’ or ‘dog,’ and don’t be afraid of it, and then over time the dog learns that,” Rossano told Salon. “Or to what degree is this spontaneous?”

If it is spontaneous, the research around the ethology for canines could get really interesting. Scientific evidence has previously suggested that dogs don’t recognize themselves in the mirror. The so-called mirror test is used to determine whether an animal has the ability of visual self-recognition, and is considered a marker of intelligence in animals. Elephants, chimpanzees, and dolphins are among the animals who have passed the test, but dogs typically don’t.

That might suggest dogs possess a lack of self-awareness. However, separate studies have shown that dogs can recognize their own scent, which hints at the opposite.

Péter Pongrácz, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, was curious if the standard mirror test was sufficient enough to determine whether or not dogs have “self-representation”—which, as Pongrácz explained, is what ethologists prefer to call “self-awareness” in animals. This curiosity led Pongrácz and a team of researchers to study dogs’ “self-representation” in a test called “the body as an obstacle.” As a behavioral test, the dogs were tasked with picking up an object and giving it to their owners while standing on a small mat. However, the object was attached to the mat, forcing the dogs to leave the mat in order to lift the object.

“Dogs came off the mat more frequently and sooner in the test condition, than in the main control condition, where the object was attached to the ground,” the researchers write in a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports published by Nature. “This is the first convincing evidence of body awareness through the understanding of the consequence of own actions in a species where previously no higher-order self-representation capacity was found.”

Pongrácz told Salon via email that the “body as an obstacle test” is more suitable for dogs, and perhaps, theoretically, could be for more species because animals are then forced “to negotiate physical challenges where their bodies can impede their actions.” Pongrácz added that mental capacity is “complicated” and should be thought of as something that consists of “several building blocks.”

“Dogs are large bodied, fast moving animals that live in a complex environment and they have a well-developed cognitive capacity; therefore, it was reasonable to hypothesize that they would benefit from being capable of understanding that they ‘have a body’ that can interact with the environment,” Pongrácz said.

“As our test proved this, yes, we can say that dogs are aware of their body—and, as body-awareness is part of the complex self-representation system, yes, they can be considered as being self-aware,” he added.

As an online spectator observing her, it is hard to deny that Bunny isn’t becoming more curious about what “dogs” are, as she has been recorded wandering over to her word board pressing “dog” and then “what.” Another time, she asked “dog” and then “why,” which humans might interpret as her asking why she’s a dog. Devine says on Instagram that this line of questioning occurs “regularly” now.

But as Rossano said, the tricky part is sussing out what is learned behavior and what is Bunny’s own doing. And that’s a separate question from whether the AAC device has influenced her sense of self. After all, as Pongrácz said, mental capacity is comprised of building blocks; language may be just another block.

“I think there’s a good reason to believe that Bunny is probably capable of a sense of self and recognizing herself in the mirror, but to what degree is spontaneous versus learned over repeated exposures, I would say it’s more likely to be the latter than the former,” Rossano said, adding that “self-awareness” wasn’t something they were interested in measuring at first in the “They Can Talk” study. But now, that’s changed.

“We know that language helps not just communicate with others, but also helps us categorize; and it also gives us some sense of consistency and continuity over time,” Rossano said. In other words, self-awareness and language could be connected, as

Rossano said a new, key interest of his study is whether or not dogs have a sense of

Research contact: @Salon

Verizon to sell Yahoo, AOL to Apollo for $5 billion

May 4, 2021

Apollo Global Management has agreed to pay about $5 billion to acquire Yahoo and AOL from Verizon Communications, as the wireless company exits its ill-fated foray into the media business, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The private-equity firm, based in New York City, is paying $4.25 billion in cash for a 90% share of the media assets. Verizon, also headquartered in the Big Apple,  will keep a 10% stake and $750 million of additional preferred stock in the new company, called Yahoo, that will be formed to operate the business.

The Wall Street Journal earlier had reported the potential sale of Verizon’s media assets to ApolloVerizon Media—which mostly struggled to grow against Alphabet’s Google as well as Facebook, generated $7 billion in revenue last year.

zon’s positioning of the media business as a complement to its core mobile business—aimed at helping it to add subscribers and reduce the number of people who quit—held it back from pursuing some opportunities to maximize the value of each asset, executives at the private-equity firm said, according to the Journal.

For example, Yahoo has been a popular platform for sports betting, but isn’t formally licensed to host gambling. Apollo, however, is licensed in more than 200 jurisdictions for gambling.

Apollo’s strategy for the business revolves around getting more revenue from each of its 900 million active monthly users. 

“This is a typical Apollo deal in that these are very iconic, industry leading, businesses, but they need a little tender loving care,” David Sambur, the firm’s co-head of private equity, said in an interview.

Verizon Media’s revenue has increased more than 10% over the past two quarters, helped by rebounding demand from advertisers looking to tap an online shopping boom during the coronavirus pandemic. Digital-ad sales are expected to accelerate in the coming months, as consumers start spending more cash on travel and other activities.

Other suitors previously showed interest in buying off certain pieces of the media

For Apollo, buying the entire portfolio means needing to have a view on how to run each of the diverse properties. The firm specializes in doing such complex deals and has focused on boosting growth at other internet companies it owns, including online-photo-services company Shutterfly.

Verizon Chief Executive Hans Vestberg said in an interview that the company’s long-term strategy to provide “network-as-a-service” to customers over fiber-optic and cellular connections made the media business a better fit under new owners. He portrayed the sale as an outcome years in the making.

Research contact: @WSJ

Here’s how to find out whether your Facebook data has been filched

April 6, 2021

Last weekend, cybersecurity experts revealed that about half a billion Facebook users’ personal information had been breached— a treasure trove of data the includes full names, birthdays, and phone numbers, CNN reports.

Facebook said that the massive hack stems from an issue in 2019, which has since been fixed. Still, there’s no clawing back that data. More than 30 million U.S. accounts were affected– and, CNN notes, the social media company isn’t making it easy to find out if your data was included in the breach.

But a third-party website, haveibeenpwned.com, has come to the rescue: It makes it simple to check whether your feed has been breached by inputting your email. For now, it just checks if your email was among those stolen.

That’s a pretty big catch: Although 533 million Facebook accounts were included in the breach, only 2.5 million of those included emails in the stolen data. So you’ve got less than a half-percent chance of showing up on that website, even though you’ve got about a 20% chance of being hacked if you’ve got a Facebook account. (This author was among those hacked.)

HaveIBeenPwned creator and security expert Troy Hunt said on Twitter that he’s examining whether to add phone numbers.

“The primary value of the data is the association of phone numbers to identities; whilst each record included a phone number, only 2.5 million contained an email address,” Hunt’s website said.

Although this data is from 2019, it could still be of value to hackers and cyber criminals like those who engage in identify theft.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to CNN on Monday about whether if it will create a way to see if their information was leaked.

Research contact: @CNN

Facebook explores paid deals for new publishing platform

March 17, 2021

Facebook will soon begin testing partnerships with a small group of independent writers for its new publishing platform, sources have told Axios.

The platform—which includes tools that  journalists can use to build actual websites, in addition to newsletters—will be tested with a small group of writers, some of whom Facebook plans to pay to help get the tools off the ground.

Yet to be officially named, the platform is designed to be free-to-use, and will be integrated with Facebook Pages, sources say.

Overall, according to Axios, the platform will comprise the following features:

  • The Pages integration will allow writers, journalists, and other types of professional experts to publish content outside of text, such as live videos and “Stories” status updates;
  • In time, Facebook plans to build tools within the platform that enable writers to monetize their websites and newsletters with subscriptions, and possibly other forms of revenue down the line; and
  • The platform is meant to help writers create an audience community that is loyal and engaged. Facebook will allow writers to create Groups for their products on the Facebook, and will provide writers with metrics about how content is performing.

The seeds of the new platform were planted at Facebook about four yeqrs ago, and have been nurtured since then. Facebook began investing in incubator programs, products and events  geared to help news companies—especially at the local level—build sustainable revenue streams.

The company also created a separate feature called the “News Tab” as a dedicated space for news on Faceboo—where it has paid partnerships with many established news companies.

The next step: Trying to help find ways individual journalists can thrive as creators.

The big picture, according to Axios: The pandemic has prompted many high-profile journalists to leaving newsrooms to launch their own newsletters or websites. Now, tech companies are getting in on the trend.

  • Twitter acquired Revue, a newsletter platform for writers and publishers, in January, and already has begun integrating its newsletter platform into its main product. It recently announced a new feature that allows users to charge their followers for more content via a payment tool called “Super Follows.”
  • LinkedIn, which is home to one of the largest communities of professionals on the Internet, also plans to launch a creator program, that would work closely with the company’s editorial arm, made up of many former journalists.

Research contact: @axios

What’s Snoo? It’s a responsive bassinet that saves infants’ lives—in and out of the hospital

Febraury 17, 2021

Dr. Harvey Karp may not have been able to predict the pandemic, nor the extent to which it would complicate the usual challenges of parenting a newborn—but he is not surprised that his invention has been a tremendous source of relief during this time.

The Los-Angeles-based 70-year-old pediatrician, baby sleep expert—and founder of the Happiest Baby empire—is behind the Snoo, the world’s first responsive baby bed, which launched in 2016 to rave reviews, high-profile clients, and financial backing from two-time parents Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake, Fortune reports.

Indeed, during the past five years, the Snoo Smart Sleeper Bassinet has become the most awarded baby product in history. Recently, it was accepted into the FDA’s Breakthrough Devices Program, where it is undergoing review as the first device to prevent the leading causes of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)—nationwide annually.

While the smart bassinet is largely known as an at-home item used in the first months of a baby’s life, it also has become a critical tool for hospitals—particularly at understaffed maternity wards where nurses and doctors continue to be hit by record numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Currently, more than 75 hospitals are using Snoo—including Boston Children’s, Mount Sinai, Jefferson Health, and UCSF medical centers—some as part of research trials; others, as a result of the company’s bed and appliance donations, worth more than $100,000, to alleviate the heavy burdens on medical workers, Fortune says.

The Snoo, which retails for $1,495 or $30 per month as a rental, automatically responds to a baby’s cries and excessive squirming by rocking and activating low-level white noise. When the baby quiets, the bed detects the change and slows to a swing.

The bed—itself a beautiful Wi-Fi–enabled object designed by Yves Béhar of Fuseproject with an organic cotton mesh outer layer, sleek wood paneling, and hairpin legs—is the physical application of the “5 S’s,” a series of cues outlined in Dr. Karp’s bestselling book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, to ensure quality sleep. A mix of swaddling, positioning the baby on her side or stomach, shushing, swinging, and sucking is key to replicating the calming trance babies experience in utero.

“Babies are exposed to a symphony of sensations in the womb. The sounds are louder than a vacuum cleaner, and there is constant movement,” Dr. Karp tells Fortune, adding that “newborns need rhythmic stimuli as much as they need calories. It soothes them to sleep.” And longer, better-quality sleep for babies means more rest for parents.

Dr. Lauren Pioppo, chief resident in Internal Medicine at Rutgers Health RWJ Medical Center, whose department has been participating in a research study for trainees and fellows, trialed the bed after the birth of her first child last May. She insists it’s nothing short of a game changer.

“As both physicians and parents, we tend to be on the paranoid side. It gave me a lot of peace of mind knowing that my daughter was strapped in and I didn’t have to worry about her rolling or flipping or potentially having her face against the side,” she says. Babies are secured safely on their backs in the Snoo’s swaddle, while their heads remain free to move. If the wings of the swaddle aren’t properly locked in, the bassinet will not turn on. “It really took the place of me in the middle of the night. After feedings, she would fall back to sleep in less than two minutes. I only had to worry about feeding and changing her; there was no anxiety around sleep and how it would impact my shifts at work.”

According to Dr. Karp, the data drawn from 42,000 infants using the Snoo demonstrate they will sleep an extra hour or two on average from their first days of life. Being able to rely on a tool that responds to an infant’s needs has proved invaluable during the pandemic, as hospitals have been forced to limit nurse exposure to newborns and mothers as well as forgo volunteer cuddle programs (which provide comfort and skin-to-skin contact to premature babies and drug-exposed infants), and new parents go without at-home caregivers owing to social distancing—an additional burden.

Based on a company survey of 56 nurses across nine hospitals conducted from April 2020 to June 2020, the Snoo saves nurses 1.7 hours per shift each day, allowing them to focus on other tasks. What’s more, it reduces the rate of infection as well as the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) required for a patient’s stay.

 “It’s true, you have to be a bit well-off to buy one,” Dr. Karp admits, adding that a night nurse would still cost more. “But that’s why we knew from the beginning that we’d go into rentals: to reach the largest number of people.” As of now, half of all Snoo consumers in the U.S. are renters, and more than 50 major companies subsidize the product as an employee benefit, including FacebookActivision Blizzard, and Snap, where it is considered a top new parent perk. The next step is getting insurance companies to cover the cost entirely.

“Babies are the same everywhere,” says Dr. Karp, matter-of-factly. “I truly believe this has the potential to change the world.”

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

Trump supporters flee to MeWe, Gab, and Rumble after Parler goes offline

January 13, 2021

Now that the account of @realDonaldTrump has been banned from Twitter—and both Apple and Google have dropped Parler from their app stores—supporters are flocking to the social media sites MeWe, Gab, and Rumble, Fortune reports.

Gab, a service that claims to champion free speech, said it added 600,000 new users over the weekend. Meanwhile, MeWe, a similar service, said it has added 400,000 users every day since Saturday and now has more than 14 million members.

The gains follow Sunday’s shut down of conservative social network Parler, which went offline after Amazon web hosting service dumped Parler as a customer because of violent posts and threats in wake of the Capitol riot. Shortly beforehand, both Apple and Google had banned Parler from their app stores.

Adding to the increased interest in alternative social media sites are bans by Twitter and Facebook on President Trump and other high-profile conservative personalities..

On Monday, Fortune notes, Facebook went to the additional step of removing content containing the phrase “stop the steal” in hopes of preventing future violence. The phrase is a popular rallying call of Trump supporters who falsely believe there was widespread fraud in the presidential election.

“It’s almost like the perfect storm,” MeWe CEO Mark Weinstein told the news outlet, adding, “The melting pot of people coming to MeWe are coming from all directions.”

Weinstein hammered home the point that his goal is to be “more vigilant” in moderating content on his service, and that he does not want to be an “anything goes” app—a thinly veiled swipe at Parler’s lax approach.

He said that MeWe has just shy of 100 content moderators who review posts on its service, and that they actually adhere to “strict” terms of service that includes the possibility that they’ll alert authorities about any concerning posts. But on Monday, several QAnon and “patriot” private groups could be found, one of which called Patriots Unleashed asked users if they were “armed and ready” before allowing them to join.

Weinstein acknowledged that some of MeWe’s user growth has been due to Parler shutting down. But he added that the app was growing prior to the election and riots. As a result, he said MeWe’s users have a wide array of political views, and are not just Trumpists.

“Those other guys, they’re opinion chambers,” he said about Parler and Gab. “We’re a social network.”

The rise of alternative social media services began late last year after Facebook and Twitter began labeling and removing more posts on their services for election misinformation. Conservatives considered the crackdown to be evidence of bias against them and President Trump.

For example, Rumble, a little-known YouTube rival, suddenly soared in popularity. Over the weekend, users downloaded its app 162,000 times— a nearly 10-fold gain from last weekend, Fortune says.

But Mark Shmulik, analyst at investment bank AB Bernstein, said he doesn’t expect the latest rise in popularity of MeWe and Gab to be long-lasting. “It’s a fad,” he said. “There will be a little niche, but it won’t disrupt what we’re seeing on Twitter.”

Shmulik said Twitter and Facebook, though growing slower, are far larger and also attract a more diverse set of users with a diverse set of thoughts. That’s what makes big social media companies more engaging than the upstarts, he added, which he described as the “equivalent to Trump rallies.”

“You can continue that, but at some point you have to reach the masses,” Shmulik said.

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine