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GM’s Self-Driving Unit Gets $2.25 Billion From SoftBank’s Venture Fund

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General Motors has announced that its self-driving unit is getting a $2.25 billion investment from the SoftBank Vision Fund, a major venture investment effort that was started by the Japanese tech giant in 2016. Cruise Automation, which GM bought in 2016 for $1 billion to jump-start its self-driving efforts, will get $900 million when the transaction closes and $1.35 billion when GM is ready to deploy its autonomous cars for commercial use (which is currently slated for 2019).

GM also announced that it will pump a fresh $1.1 billion round of investment into Cruise when the transaction closes, bringing the total to $3.35 billion. When all its investments have been made, SoftBank Vision Fund will own a 19.6 percent stake in Cruise.

While a number of different takes on self-driving technology are currently being tested, it’s not yet clear which ones will be the most commercially viable or whether some mix of all of them will ultimately change the way we get around. Will we hail a self-driving car from a service like Uber or Lyft? Will we buy cars from automakers that can drive themselves? Will we allow those cars to be hailed by others when we’re not using them? Will fully self-driving technology only make sense in a public transportation setting?

Perhaps because of this uncertainty, there is one thing that is clear about self-driving cars: whatever does happen with them, it’s likely that no one company will go it alone. While GM and Cruise are working on their own commercial autonomous ride-hailing service, GM also has a self-driving partnership with Lyft that kicked off in early 2016 before the acquisition of Cruise. Lyft is working with Ford (which spent $1 billion on its own obscure self-driving startup) to tie the ride-hailing service’s app platform into the automaker’s self-driving cars.

Lyft is also working its own self-driving technology stack that serves as the foundation for an open platform for automakers and other companies to build on, an idea that has already attracted Jaguar Land Rover, NuTonomy, Drive.ai, and Waymo, the self-driving company that was spun out of Google.

Like Lyft, Waymo is also trying to build a self-driving stack that other companies can work with to make autonomous cars a reality. (A handful of startups, like Aurora, which is led by the former head of Google’s self-driving program, are trying a similar business model.) It has since struck a partnership with Intel, which has a self-driving unit of its own in Mobileye, the former partner of Tesla’s that helped develop the first Autopilot. Waymo is also working with Jaguar to build 20,000 self-driving I-Pace SUVs, and is working on a deal with Honda. Waymo got its true start by working out a deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which was renewed today in a huge way, and the two sides are discussing the possibility of selling their self-driving minivans.

By Sean O’Kane

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Instagram Makes It Easier To Take Back Hacked Accounts.

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Instagram is finally addressing a huge problem on its platform: hacked accounts.

The company says it is making a series of changes that will make it easier for people to regain access to a hacked account. The update comes almost a year after Mashable first reported that a wave of bizarre hacks had hit Instagram users, leaving them little recourse to get their accounts back.

With the newly announced changes, which are currently being tested ahead of a wider rollout, Instagram will allow users to access its account recovery tools directly in the app, even if a hacker has changed their account information. So when a person is unable to login to an account, Instagram will prompt users to enter information associated with your account like your email address or phone number. (Users can also access this via "need more help" in the app's login screen.)

From there, Instagram will send a verification code you can use to access your account. Instagram will also remove any other devices logged into your account, so a hacker who has access to your email will be unable to use the recovery code.

This may sound fairly straightforward, but these changes address significant issues with Instagram's previous account recovery process. Because hackers often changed the email, phone number, or username associated with an account, it could be incredibly difficult if not impossible for the actual account owner to navigate the automated support system.

Users have reported Instagram sending recovery emails to the address of their hackers, for example, or inexplicably telling them it could not verify their identity even though they provided the information requested. This caused some people to resort to more elaborate schemes, such as reporting a hacked account for impersonation or leaving voicemails for Instagram support.

This new process will hopefully make those kinds of moves a thing of the past, as Instagram says its goal is to move the entire account recovery process in-app. Additional support will still be available to those who need it though, according to an Instagram spokesperson.

Notably, this new process will also apply to people whose accounts have previously been hacked and unable to regain access.

Additionally, Instagram says it's addressing another major issue often associated with hacked accounts: username theft. Because accounts that have short or original names are considered valuable and desirable, they often face a disproportionate amount of hacking attempts. Hackers will often change a username in order to scoop it up for a fresh account or sell it on shady forums.

Now, Instagram says that a previously used username will not be available for anyone else for several days in order to make it more difficult for hackers to steal valuable usernames. (The company isn't disclosing exactly how long names will be inaccessible to others but a spokesperson says it will be "multiple days.")

While it's unlikely these changes will put a stop to hacking attempts, or the massive business of buying and selling stolen accounts, it could make life more difficult for hackers — at least until they find new ways to circumvent Instagram's policies. But it should also give users more power to get their accounts back.

Source: Mashable

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YouTube Reportedly Considers Moving All Children’s Content To YouTube Kids.

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YouTube is reportedly considering major changes after a long string of terrible headlines involving everything from pedophiles to gun-wielding Disney characters.

The company might remove all children's content from YouTube and show it exclusively in the YouTube Kids app, a new Wall Street Journal article says.

The other option under discussion involves entirely turning off auto-playing recommended videos on children's content. This is the system that leads viewers from a seemingly harmless video to extreme content and conspiracy theories.

These changes would be immense for YouTube. The platform has reportedly been relying on down-ranking and reducing the reach of controversial content, rather than removing it outright. But turning off the recommendation algorithm for children altogether would amount to some sort of admission that it's the platform's architecture — not the content — that is the problem.

It could also potentially affect revenue by moving a sizable chunk of videos off the platform, away from YouTube's advertisers. YouTube Kids does have ads, but there are additional requirements for advertisers there.

The Journal also reports that Google CEO Sundar Pichai has recently been taking a more active role in the management of YouTube, which is run by Susan Wojcicki. Recent scandals involving the wildfire-like spread of the Christchurch shooting video and pedophilia rings enabled by YouTube's recommendation algorithm have reportedly caused internal upheaval.

In 2018, YouTube Kids added controls to allow parents to manually select the channels and creators that their kids would be able to watch. It also added more human moderators to remove harmful content. But not all kids watch videos on the Kids app alone, which means they currently could be exposed to the same algorithmic wormhole that adults are.

YouTube told the Journal that it considers "lots of ideas for improving YouTube and some remain just that—ideas."

Source: Mashable

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Google Desperately Wants To Win Over Geeks’ Hearts

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Google's acting really strange these days.

First, the company basically says "fuck it," then both confirms the Pixel 4 and its huge square-shaped camera bump. And now they company has publicly admitted to Business Insider that they've canceled two unreleased tablets and will instead focus on making Pixelbook laptops.

These two PR moves are unusual for a tech company. Usually, outfits like Google never acknowledge upcoming products. Why would they? It would take all the excitement out of their own launch event.

Moreover, tech companies don't ever talk about canceled products because they'll never see the light of day. No point in getting people all worked up over products that technically don't exist.

That's why it's so out of character for Google to suddenly be so open. What's the goal here?

Maybe these two instances are unrelated, but to a tech observer like myself, it sure looks like Google's trying its hardest to court geeks in an effort to convince super fans that it's serious about hardware this year. In fact, these moves feel like they're coming straight out of startup phone maker OnePlus' playbook, which has built its fanbase catering to geeks as well.

Source: Mashable

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Apple Recalls MacBook Pro Batteries Over ‘Fire Safety Risk’

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If you have an older MacBook Pro, you might need to get its battery replaced.

Apple is recalling 15-inch MacBook Pro laptops sold between between September 2015 and February 2017 over a battery issue it says poses a "fire safety risk."

"Apple has determined that, in a limited number of older generation 15-inch MacBook Pro units, the battery may overheat and pose a fire safety risk," the company writes on a support page about the recall.

Affected laptops should not be used until the company can issue battery replacements, Apple says. The recall only applies to 15-inch Pro models and other MacBooks are unaffected. Even if you're not totally sure if your laptop is impacted, it's probably a good idea to double check.

Here's how Apple recommends you check to see if your laptop is affected:

To confirm which model you have, choose About This Mac from the Apple menu () in the upper-left corner of your screen. If you have “MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2015),” enter your computer's serial number on the program page to see if it is eligible for a battery replacement.

The recall comes shortly after one musician posted videos of his smoking MacBook Pro, which he said "exploded" after normal use. The musician, who goes by the name "White Panda," told Mashable in an interview that he had his laptop in his lap when smoke suddenly began pouring out of it. It later "popped" and caught fire.

It's not clear if the current recall is related to that issue, but Apple does make it very clear that the MacBook Pros in question could pose a serious safety risk.

Source: Mashable

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