Digital Content

Information that is published or distributed in a digital form, including text, data, sound recordings, photographs and images, motion pictures, and software.

“Alexa, Understand Me”

From that modest start, voice-based AI for the home has become a big business for Amazon and, increasingly, a strategic battleground with its technology rivals. Google, Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft are each putting thousands of researchers and business specialists to work trying to create irresistible versions of easy-to-use devices that we can talk with. “Until now, all of us have bent to accommodate tech, in terms of typing, tapping, or swiping. Now the new user interfaces are bending to us,” observes Ahmed Bouzid, the chief executive officer of Witlingo, which builds voice-driven apps of all sorts for banks, universities, law firms, and others.

For Amazon, what started out as a platform for a better jukebox has become something bigger: an artificial intelligence system built upon, and constantly learning from, human data. Its Alexa-powered Echo cylinder and tinier Dot are omnipresent household helpers that can turn off the lights, tell jokes, or let you read the news hands-free. They also collect reams of data about their users, which is being used to improve Alexa and add to its uses. The ultimate payoff is the opportunity to control—or at least influence—three important markets: home automation, home entertainment, and shopping.

How Disney Wants to Take On Netflix With Its Own Streaming Services

Disney unveiled plans on Aug 8 for Netflix-style streaming services for sports programming from ESPN and Disney movies. It is a striking, multibillion-dollar bid to reposition Disney, the world’s largest entertainment company, for growth and to address worries of cord-cutting in the traditional television business. Disney’s direct-to-consumer services will start in 2018. The first one will offer ESPN programming, including baseball, hockey, tennis and college sports — about 10,000 regional and national events in its first year. By 2019, Disney plans to start a separate entertainment service, which will include Pixar movies, Disney Channel television series and film library content.

For the last two years, Disney has not been to convince investors that ESPN, its longtime growth engine, will keep chugging away — albeit more slowly — even as the network deals with the subscriber erosion that is buffeting the broader cable television business. Its efforts have included paying $1 billion last year for a 33 percent stake in BamTech, which handles streaming for baseball teams and HBO. At the time, Disney said it was working on an ESPN-branded streaming service. On Aug 8, the company said it would pay $1.58 billion for an additional 42 percent stake in BamTech. Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, said the acquisition would help his company compete with streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon by introducing a video home base for all things Disney. “The media landscape is increasingly defined by direct relationships between content creators and consumers,” Iger said. “This acquisition and the launch of our direct-to-consumer services mark an entirely new growth strategy for the company.”

Tech’s sexism doesn’t stay in Silicon Valley. It’s in the products you use.

We’ve heard lots about Silicon Valley’s toxic culture this summer — its harassing venture capitalists, its man-child CEOs, its abusive nondisparagement agreements. Those stories have focused on how that culture harms those in the industry — the women and people of color who’ve been patronized, passed over, pushed out and, in this latest case, told they’re biologically less capable of doing the work in the first place. But what happens in Silicon Valley doesn’t stay in Silicon Valley. It comes into our homes and onto our screens, affecting all of us who use technology, not just those who make it. It’s bad enough for apps to showcase sexist or racially tone-deaf jokes or biases. But in many cases, those same biases are also embedded somewhere much more sinister — in the powerful (yet invisible) algorithms behind much of today’s software.

When Silicon Valley Took Over Journalism

Over the past generation, journalism has been slowly swallowed. The ascendant media companies of our era don’t think of themselves as heirs to a great ink-stained tradition. Some like to compare themselves to technology firms. This redefinition isn’t just a bit of fashionable branding. As Silicon Valley has infiltrated the profession, journalism has come to unhealthily depend on the big tech companies, which now supply journalism with an enormous percentage of its audience—and, therefore, a big chunk of its revenue.

Dependence generates desperation—a mad, shameless chase to gain clicks through Facebook, a relentless effort to game Google’s algorithms. It leads media outlets to sign terrible deals that look like self-preserving necessities: granting Facebook the right to sell their advertising, or giving Google permission to publish articles directly on its fast-loading server. In the end, such arrangements simply allow Facebook and Google to hold these companies ever tighter.

These 42 Disney apps are allegedly spying on your kids

The Walt Disney Co secretly collects personal information on some of their youngest customers and shares that data illegally with advertisers without parental consent, according to a federal lawsuit filed late last week in California. The class-action suit targets Disney and three other software companies — Upsight, Unity and Kochava — alleging that the mobile apps they built together violate the law by gathering insights about app users across the Internet, including those under the age of 13, in ways that facilitate “commercial exploitation.”

The plaintiffs argue that Disney and its partners violated COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law designed to protect the privacy of children on the Web. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California, seeks an injunction barring the companies from collecting and disclosing the data without parental consent, as well as punitive damages and legal fees. The lawsuit alleges that Disney allowed the software companies to embed trackers in apps such as “Disney Princess Palace Pets” and “Where’s My Water? 2.” Once installed, tracking software can then “exfiltrate that information off the smart device for advertising and other commercial purposes,” according to the suit. Disney should not be using those software development companies, said Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “These are heavy-duty technologies, industrial-strength data and analytic companies whose role is to track and monetize individuals,” Chester said. “These should not be in little children’s apps.”

A Future Ruled by the "Botnet of Things"?

In October 2016, botnets (an interconnected group of electronic devices under the control of a botmaster, or botherder, who can then use the bot army to steal information or carry out scams on a massive scale) made headlines as the instrument behind a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against domain name system (DNS) provider Dyn that took dozens of websites, including Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, Twitter, and even the Swedish government, offline for hours. In response to a Request for Comment from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), OTI offered seven recommendations for addressing the threats posed by botnets:

1. Use bug bounty programs to reduce vulnerabilities in IoT products
2. Design devices such that they can be patched and updated
3. Ship items with unique, random credentials, and let users customize login information
4. Establish clear support windows and end-of-life procedures
5. Let users know which security features are available to them on a device—and which are not
6. Connect consciously
7. Support the products that implement best practices

The End of Typing: The Next Billion Mobile Users Will Rely on Video and Voice

The internet’s global expansion is entering a new phase, and it looks decidedly unlike the last one. Instead of typing searches and e-mails, a wave of newcomers—“the next billion,” the tech industry calls them—is avoiding text, using voice activation and communicating with images. They are a swath of the world’s less-educated, online for the first time thanks to low-end smartphones, cheap data plans and intuitive apps that let them navigate despite poor literacy. Incumbent tech companies are finding they must rethink their products for these newcomers and face local competitors that have been quicker to figure them out.

Mr. Singh, 36, balances suitcases on his head in New Delhi, earning less than $8 a day as a porter in one of India’s biggest railway stations. He isn’t comfortable reading or using a keyboard. That doesn’t stop him from checking train schedules, messaging family and downloading movies. “We don’t know anything about e-mails or even how to send one,” said Mr. Singh, who went online only in the past year. “But we are enjoying the internet to the fullest.”

Digital News Fact Sheet

In the US, roughly nine-in-ten adults (93%) ever get news online (either via mobile or desktop), and the online space has become a host for the digital homes of both legacy news outlets and new, “born on the web” news outlets. Digital advertising revenue across all digital entities (beyond just news) continues to grow, with technology companies playing a large role in the flow of both news and revenue.

Digital-native news outlets are also adopting other outreach and engagement methods. Fully 97% of these outlets offer newsletters, and 92% have an official presence on Apple News. Three-quarters, meanwhile, release podcasts and 61% allow comments on their articles. These outlets are also highly likely to use social media as part of their outreach. Nearly all have official pages or accounts on Facebook (100%), Twitter (100%), YouTube (97%) and Instagram (92%). Far fewer (25%) have an official channel or account on Snapchat.

Political Donors Put Their Money Where the Memes Are

Imagine you’re a millionaire or billionaire with strong political views and a desire to spread those views to the masses. Do you start a think tank in Washington? Funnel millions to a shadowy “super PAC”? Bankroll the campaign of an up-and-coming politician? For a growing number of deep-pocketed political donors, the answer is much more contemporary: Invest in internet virality.

As TV, radio and newspapers give way to the megaphonic power of social media, today’s donor class is throwing its weight behind a new group of partisan organizations that specialize in creating catchy, highly shareable messages for Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms. Viral media expertise is emerging as a crucial skill for political operatives, and as donors look to replicate the success of the social media sloganeers who helped lift President Trump to victory, they’re seeking out talented meme makers.

Facebook is starting to put more posts from local politicians into people’s News Feed

Facebook is testing a new feature that inserts posts from local politicians into users’ News Feeds, even if they don’t necessarily follow those politicians. The new feature included a label titled “This week in your government.” A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that the feature is a test. "We are testing a new civic engagement feature that shows people on Facebook the top posts from their elected officials,” this spokesperson said in a statement. “Our goal is to give people a simple way to learn about what’s happening at all levels of their government.” The feature will appear, at most, once per week, and only for users who follow at least one local, state or federal representative from their area. Facebook knows who your local reps are if you handed over your address to use the company’s voting plan feature — or its “Town Hall” feature, which helps people find and follow their elected officials. Otherwise, you’ll just see posts from politicians at the state and federal levels.