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Leeo Smart Alert Nightlight review: $99 is cheap if it saves your house from ...

Okay, so maybe my headline is bit over the top. The Leeo Smart Alert Nightlight isn't a robotic fire extinguisher (although Leeo CEO and co-founder Adam Gettings' background includes designing robots for SWAT teams and other first responders). But the Leeo really can prevent your house from burning down, and that renders this $99 nightlight very inexpensive indeed.


A smoke detector can save your life and property if a fire breaks out, and a carbon monoxide detector can save your life. But if you're not home to hear those alarms go off, they're not very useful. One alternative is to install a home-security system that provides remote monitoring, but ADT, Vivint, and similar companies charge at least $15 per month for that service.



You can control the brightness of the Leeo's nightlight feature using the app on your smartphone or by rotating the collar on the device itself.


Buy a Leeo for $99 and if it detects your smoke or CO detector going off, the Leeo service will send you a message via the app, complete with a recording of the alarm sounding off. Touch one button to call your local 911 (local to your home, not to where you are at the time), or touch another to indicate a false alarm.


If you don't take action immediately, the Leeo service will robo-call your emergency contact list until someone not only answers, but takes action (since the call could go to voicemail). The call will play the recorded sound and ask the person to press 1 if they think it's a smoke (or CO) detector, to press 2 if they think it's a false alarm, or to press 3 to hear the sound again.


The Leeo did produce a couple of false CO alarms.

The app message (see example below) informs you of the location of the alarm, but the robo-call does not. I hope Leeo changes that in short order, because if the people on your contact list also have Leeos, or if you have more than one home with one, the person answering the call won't know where the emergency is. I also hope Leeo finishes the Android version of its app soon, because I don't have an iPhone. Today, the app works only with the iPhone 4S or later, with iOS 7 or later. it can also be controlled by a fifth-generation iPod touch. I used my wife's iPhone 5 to evaluate the Leeo.


How it works-and how well it works

Here's how it works. Open a free Leeo account and install the Leeo app on your smartphone. Plug the Leeo into an electrical outlet, preferably in a hallway where your smoke or carbon-monoxide detector is located. Launch the app and it will use Bluetooth to pair your phone with the Leeo. The final step is to provide the app with your Wi-Fi router's password, so that the Leeo can join your home network.



Leeo sends this message via its app when it detects a smoke or carbon-monoxide sensor sounding off.


The Leeo is equipped with a microphone and sensors for temperature, humidity, and ambient light. The microphone is tuned to recognize the specific frequencies and audio patterns that smoke and CO detectors generate when they sound an alarm (a Leeo spokesperson told me there are UL-standard frequencies that all smoke and CO detectors produce). And in my tests, the Leeo was able to distinguish between the two alarms.


Leeo (the company) states the sensor's range at 75 feet, and it was able to pick up my CO detector's alarm from more than 50 feet (in a bedroom on the other side of the house). You might want more than one Leeo if you own a very large or a multi-storied home. The app supports multiple Leeos and can determine which one is sending an alert.


The Leeo is not infallible

The Leeo also produced a couple of false alarms while I was testing it. The first one happened when I went back into my bedroom to close up the ladder I'd used to reach my ceiling-mounted smoke detector about 20 minutes earlier. When I came back into the room, the Leeo was flashing red and my phone ringing. I answered the call to hear a recording of me talking to my wife, who was in the kitchen as I was in the bedroom folding the ladder. The app registered the event as a carbon-monoxide alarm. I tried to reproduce the circumstances that produce the false alarm, but it didn't happen again.


That piqued my curiosity, so I set about producing other noises to see what would happen. I picked up a crystal water glass and began slapping a stainless steel butcher knife against it to produce a high-pitched ringing. Sure enough, another false alarm-a CO detector alert once again. But when I dismissed the alert and tried again, I once again was unable to reproduce the false alarm with the same noise.



The Leeo Nightlight gives you rainbow of colors to choose from.


I also tried breaking a rack of pool balls (with the Leeo plugged in in the same room); banging stainless steel pots, ceramic plates, and silver flatware together; and playing loud music (including Jimi Hendrix's guitar-feedback-infused EXP, from Axis Bold As Love).


None of those sounds had any effect on the Leeo. But an hour or two later, my wife called to me from our master bathroom where she was drying her hair (I was in my home office on the other side of the house). The Leeo once again generated a false CO alarm. And once again, we were unable to reproduce it.


Your home will likely be quiet when you're not in it, unless your pet knocks over a vase or a neighborhood kid launches a baseball through your window (I didn't attempt to produce either of those sounds), so there's probably little risk of a false alarm while you're away. But if you're away and your spouse or children are home and create a noise that generates a false alarm, it could be, well, alarming. Fortunately, the Leeo's ability to send you a recording of the sound that triggered it should put your mind at ease if it does happen.


When I queried Leeo about my false-alarm experience via email, I received this somewhat sterile response: 'The Leeo Smart Alert Nightlight is programmed to recognize the frequencies and patterns associated with smoke and CO alarms. It also continually learns and updates as a device to keep families and their homes safe. The Leeo app, available tomorrow [ed: Tuesday, October 21] on the App Store embodies all of the latest updates and learning to date.'


I will monitor the Leeo's performance over the next couple of weeks and will revisit my verdict if false alarms prove to be an issue.


Superfluous features

The app displays the current temperature and humidity level near the Leeo. I suppose the temperature sensor could help you confirm that a fire has broken out in your home, but one would hope that the fire hasn't become that intense so quickly. And if you see it registering a very low temperature, you might worry about the possibility of your pipes freezing or your pets coming to harm. The humidity sensor might be useful as a warning that conditions are ripe for mold growth or that there's a major water leak (from a broken pipe, for instance). These sensors will generate alerts if either level goes to an extreme, but they're redundant if you have a smart thermostat.



The Leeo doesn't require a grounded outlet, so it will work in older homes, too.


I could say the same for the nightlight, and it would be great if Leeo came out with a cheaper model that dropped that feature as well as the temperature and humidity sensors.


If you do want a nightlight, the Leeo is a great one. It's outfitted with an array of multi-colored LEDs that illuminate the Leeo's collar and bounce light off the wall behind it. You can choose among millions of colors by sliding your finger across the app, or you can pick from 10 predefined colors, including white.


You can also adjust the brightness level. If you activate the ambient light sensor, the Leeo will automatically alter its brightness based on the level of light in the room. The LEDs also flash red to inform you of an emergency. They pulse white while communicating with your phone, and they fade from blue to white while connecting to your Wi-Fi network. A single LED could be just as useful for these notification functions.


A worthwhile investment

Leeo is an expensive nightlight, but no one will buy it just for that. Despite the two false alarms, I would trust its sensors to alert me to a fire or carbon monoxide emergency in my house. A simple text message might induce panic, so the embedded recording is a brilliant feature. And the cascading contact list will ensure that someone will hear about your emergency and take action.


Apart from the false alarms, I have only two other criticisms: First, Leeo doesn't have any provision for being incorporated into other smart-home systems. If either detector goes off, for instance, I want lights to come on to illuminate my way out of the house. I could think of other rules, too, such as recording video clips from third-party IP cameras, so that I can see as well as hear what's happening in my house. Including support for IFTTT recipes would be one way to accomplish that goal, and I hope Leeo considers that.


Second, the Leeo would be an even better product if it had a battery backup. Smoke detectors run on batteries, and the AC-powered models have battery backup. Routers don't, but if you connect yours and your Internet gateway to an uninterruptible power supply, your home won't lose its connection to the Internet during a blackout. A battery-backed GSM module would be an even better solution, but then Leeo (the company) would probably need a service contract. And that's something it has avoided with this product.


Bottom line: The Leeo Smart Alert Nightlight is a smart product for any home.


What do you think of the Leeo? Is this the type of device you'd install in your home or apartment? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section, below.


Adobe, Nielsen form digital content analytics alliance

Summary: The aim is to eradicate the differences marketers and content producers see between metrics in back-end systems and public ratings.


Adobe and Nielsen have formed a partnership that aims to track content and engagement metrics across multiple Internet protocol devices ranging from desktops to smartphones to tablets to TV and game consoles so chief marketing officers can get to one source of the truth.


The effort combines one of the leading keepers of digital content ratings with Adobe's analytics platform. The aim is to eradicate the differences marketers and content producers see between metrics in back-end systems and public ratings. If all goes well, panels tracking Web content will give way to more accurate measurements via a census approach.


According to the companies, the partnership will also lead to easier implementations for marketers, media companies and advertisers and track everything from video to audio to text. Adobe and Nielsen will pre-integrate tagging systems and software development kits for enterprises. Tracking content consumption and engagement has become a major issue for companies.


'This (partnership) is an opportunity for marketers and publishers who need to move at the speed of consumers and buy effectively across platforms,' said Ashley Still, Senior Director, Primetime at Adobe.



Indeed, Adobe's Video Benchmark Report shows that online TV consumption is up 388 percent from a year ago. Smartphones are the most popular way to watch video and even topped tablets slightly.


Adobe and Nielsen executives said the alliance's flagship product, Nielsen Digital Content Ratings, Powered by Adobe, won't be generally available until 2015. No timeline beyond 2015 has been set. Media companies such as ESPN, Univision, Turner and Sony Pictures are among the initial beta participants. Although those media companies have significant video operations, the Adobe-Nielsen partnership covers digital content not Nielsen's TV ratings.


Enterprises deploying the platform by Nielsen and Adobe would have to be joint customers of Adobe's Analytics and Primetime services and Nielsen's measurement data. The companies acknowledged customer overlap, but didn't have specific statistics.


The potential benefits from the Adobe-Nielsen combination would be more accurate real-time reporting and better allocation of marketing dollars. Typically, marketers have an analytics number internally and different figures from rating services. 'We're going to marry site analytics with the rating to get to a single source of the truth,' said Lynda Clarizio, President, U.S. Media, Nielsen.


Google's updated search engine cracks down on piracy websites


Reuters / Mal Langsdon


The new version of Google's search engine rolling out this week will 'visibly affect' the way it presents and ranks piracy websites around the world.


The company made the announcement last week on its Public Policy Blog, in an attempt to detail its ongoing efforts to combat piracy. These new changes to the search algorithm will affect all users worldwide.


In its online statement, Google noted that the changes come as an addition to tweaks they had already made two years ago.


'In August 2012 we first announced that we would downrank sites for which we received a large number of valid DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] notices,' Google's senior copyright counsel, Katherine Oyama, wrote online. 'We've now refined the signal in ways we expect to visibly affect the rankings of some of the most notorious sites.'


Additionally, the search giant said it will be 'demoting autocomplete predictions that return results with many DMCA demoted sites.'


READ MORE: Iceland court orders Vodafone to block Pirate Bay


The changes come as Google tries to redirect users to sites where they can legally watch, stream, or download movies and music. The way advertisements are presented is also being tweaked, with links to legal streaming services and online shops presenting users with destinations when they use certain keywords. The new ad format will roll out first in the United States, but there are plans to implement it internationally as well.


These modifications are also a part of an ongoing back-and-forth between Google and media groups like the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America. Both have pushed Google to apply harsher filters to move users away from illegal websites like RapidGator and 4Shared.


As part of the DMCA, Google is required to take down links to copyrighted material if the rights holders make such a request, as noted by Ars Technica. If not, it could be found legally liable.


In 2013 alone, Google had to deal with 224 million DMCA requests regarding its search results, with the company removing 222 million. Those left online were allowed to stay because Google 'needed additional information, were unable to find the page, or concluded that the material was not infringing.'


While DMCA requests traffic in individual links, Google's new algorithm changes are expected to demote piracy websites in general.


These adjustments are the latest in a series of blows for piracy websites around the world. Last week, Iceland's high court ordered the country's two major internet providers to block access to The Pirate Bay torrent website - an unexpected decision for a country typically regarded as a strong opponent of censorship.


In July, meanwhile, an Italian court banned Kim Dotcom's new Mega project for promoting the distribution of pirated movies.


Spotify Family lets users share one Premium account at a discount

MUSIC STREAMING SERVICE Spotify announced on Monday that it will follow in the footsteps of Netflix with a multi-user account proposition, which will be coming to the UK 'in the next few weeks'.


Spotify Family will allow subscribers to add up to four family members to their account, each paying half the price of a standard Premium subscription, which costs £9.99 in the UK.


Spotify confirmed to The INQUIRER that adding one person to an account will cost £14.99 per month, increasing to £19.99, £24.99 and £29.99 if two, three or four others are added.


In the US, Spotify Family will cost $14.99 for two users, $19.99 for three, $24.99 for four and $29.99 for five.


Spotify said in a blog post: 'Are you currently sharing your Spotify account with the entire family? Want to keep your 60s soul classics playlist separate from your kids' Frozen soundtrack and save money in the process?


'Well, great news! With Spotify Family you can now invite up to four family members and share one billing account whilst keeping your listening history, recommendations and playlists completely separate.


'Your own music. Your own playlists and recommendations. But just one simple family bill. It's great for big families with lots of different devices, as everyone can play at once. No more interruptions when mum logs in. No more fighting over Calvin vs Lionel.'


Netflix offers a similar feature with Profiles, allowing multiple users to have their own profile on the same account. Unlike Spotify's Family plans, Netflix doesn't charge extra for this.


Spotify Family is the first of its kind in the UK, although rival streaming services in the US offer a similar proposition. This includes Rdio and Beats Music, which offers a Family plan to AT&T customers.


Spotify was unable to confirm an exact release date for the feature, but said it would arrive in the UK 'within the next few weeks'. ยต


Apple clarifies Spotlight Suggestions data collection practices

Responding to user privacy concerns, Apple issues a statement describing the restrictions it places on the collection of customer data.


Apple


Responding to concerns that Apple was automatically collecting user location and search query data through its latest Mac operating system, the company issued a statement Monday clarifying its customer data collection policies.


Not long after OS X 10.10 Yosemite was released, customers began expressing privacy concerns about the revamped version of Spotlight search that was included in the release. The tool, which offers Google search suggestions, as well as its own Spotlight suggestions, raised the suspicion of users when Apple issued a warning on a support page notifying them that their web search queries and other related data was being sent back to Apple servers.


Apple said the information would be used to improve Spotlight functionality as well as other Apple products and services and noted that users can opt out of Spotlight suggestions by making changes to their settings. However, users still took to Twitter to complain the tool was an invasion of their privacy.


'Why is Apple spying on my location,' wondered a Twitter user by the name of Benjamin Mayo. Dozens of other users advised Mac owners on how to disable the feature.


In response to the controversy, Apple issued a statement Monday to iMore that outlined the restrictions it said it places on data collection to protect its customers' privacy:


We are absolutely committed to protecting our users' privacy and have built privacy right into our products. For Spotlight Suggestions we minimize the amount of information sent to Apple. Apple doesn't retain IP addresses from users' devices. Spotlight blurs the location on the device so it never sends an exact location to Apple. Spotlight doesn't use a persistent identifier, so a user's search history can't be created by Apple or anyone else. Apple devices only use a temporary anonymous session ID for a 15-minute period before the ID is discarded.


We also worked closely with Microsoft to protect our users' privacy. Apple forwards only commonly searched terms and only city-level location information to Bing. Microsoft does not store search queries or receive users' IP addresses.


Apple's support page informs users who want to opt out of Spotlight Suggestions, Bing or Location Services for Spotlight to go to their Mac's System Preferences and deselect the corresponding checkboxes.


Unveiled at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June, the revamped Spotlight tool aimed to challenge Google's mobile search dominance. Spotlight expanded from a feature used primarily to search a user's hard drive for photos, documents and other files to a broader web search tool for surfacing results such as movie showtimes, Wikipedia articles and local listings through Yelp.


The subject of user privacy is especially sensitive for Apple, which heralds itself as taking ' a very different view' of privacy than its Silicon Valley brethren, which often make a business out of collecting and leveraging customer information. In an open letter last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook published a new privacy policy that explained how it handles its users' personal information and government requests for that information.


'We don't build a profile based on your email content or Web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don't 'monetize' the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don't read your email or your messages to get information to market to you,' Cook wrote in the letter, which was published on Apple's privacy page.


Apple clarifies Spotlight Suggestions data collection practices

Responding user privacy concerns, Apple issues statement describing the restrictions it places on the collection of customer data.


Apple

Responding concerns that Apple was automatically collecting user location and search query data through its latest Mac operating system, the company issued a statement Monday clarifying its customer data collection policies.


Not long after OS X 10.10 Yosemite was released, customers began expressing privacy concerns about the revamped version of Spotlight search that was included in the release. The tool, which offers Google search suggestions, as well as its own Spotlight suggestions, raised the suspicion of users when Apple issued a warning on a support page notifying them that their web search queries and other related data was being sent back to Apple servers.


Apple said the information would be used to improve Spotlight functionality as well as other Apple products and services and noted that users can opt out of Spotlight suggestions by making changes to their settings. However, users still took to Twitter to complain the tool was an invasion of their privacy.


'Why is Apple spying on my location,' wondered a Twitter user by the name of Benjamin Mayo. Dozens of other users advised Mac owners on how to disable the feature.


In response to the controversy, Apple issued a statement Monday to iMore that outlined the restrictions it said it places on data collection to protect its customers' privacy:


We are absolutely committed to protecting our users' privacy and have built privacy right into our products. For Spotlight Suggestions we minimize the amount of information sent to Apple. Apple doesn't retain IP addresses from users' devices. Spotlight blurs the location on the device so it never sends an exact location to Apple. Spotlight doesn't use a persistent identifier, so a user's search history can't be created by Apple or anyone else. Apple devices only use a temporary anonymous session ID for a 15-minute period before the ID is discarded.


We also worked closely with Microsoft to protect our users' privacy. Apple forwards only commonly searched terms and only city-level location information to Bing. Microsoft does not store search queries or receive users' IP addresses.


Apple's support page informs users who want to opt out of Spotlight Suggestions, Bing or Location Services for Spotlight to go to their Mac's System Preferences and deselect the corresponding checkboxes.


Unveiled at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June, the revamped Spotlight tool aimed to challenge Google's mobile search dominance. Spotlight expanded from a feature used primarily to search a user's hard drive for photos, documents and other files to a broader web search tool for surfacing results such as movie showtimes, Wikipedia articles, and local listings through Yelp.


The subject of user privacy is especially sensitive for Apple, which heralds itself as taking ' a very different view' of privacy than its Silicon Valley brethren, which often make a business out of collecting and leveraging customer information. In an open letter last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook published a new privacy policy that explained how it handles its users' personal information and government requests for that information.


'We don't build a profile based on your email content or Web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don't 'monetize' the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don't read your email or your messages to get information to market to you,' Cook wrote in the letter, which was published on Apple's privacy page.


Architect's Dream Of Levitating Houses Turns Into A Hoverboard


For the past 20 years, architect Greg Henderson has been trying to figure out ways to build safer buildings to withstand earthquakes. Along the way, he came up with a method using electromagnetic fields to separate the building from the ground during an earthquake. But he also realized the technology could be used in plenty of other ways, especially in the field of transportation where similar yet less efficient technology is used in bullet trains called Maglev.


But first, Henderson needed to start small and get some way to capture people's imagination. That's where the Hendo hoverboard comes in.


After two years in stealth mode, Henderson's 19-person startup, Arx Pax, is ready to start talking about the hoverboard and is making the technology inside of it available to the maker crowd on Kickstarter. Arx Pax is looking to raise $250K for the campaign and will sell the technology for $299 in a 12-pound white box it calls the Hover Engine developer kit. Buyers can take the hover tech outside of the box and put it in anything they want to hover.


The hover tech inside the development kit is able to carry around 40 pounds. The battery inside the hover tech work at an efficiency of about 40 watts per kilogram. For comparison, a helicopter elevation efficiency is about 160 watts per kilogram.


The hover tech is also very noisy and only lasts about seven minutes. There are moving parts inside of the engine with an inductor, but the startup hopes to make a quiet solid state version-so no moving parts.


Arx Pax is also working on what it calls the G-Ray, which has the ability to control the hover technology remotely using a controller or a smartphone app the startup is planning on developing.


The Hendo hoverboard may not fulfill everyone's expectations of how a hoverboard should work. Unlike the Back to the Future film series, Hendo cannot fly over hedges and water. The engine requires the board to be on top of conductive materials to serve as a secondary magnetic field-aluminum and copper work, for example, but not steel and nickel. The Los Gatos, CA-based startup has built a mini aluminum skatepark in the back of its office to test out each version of the board.


The main technological advancement Arx Pax is bringing to the table is the ability to levitate on passive surfaces. Similar technology we've seen in bullet trains use Maglev, which requires billions of dollars to be invested in tracks that contain sensors and electronics along every section of the track. Installing the infrastructure using Arx Pax technology would consist of laying down tracks using the right conductive material but without all of the expensive electronics. In the US, a company testing out a Maglev system in San Diego has cost about $750K per meter of test track. Arx Pax estimates its technology would only cost $10K per meter of track.


Arx Pax is able to achieve these advantages by using what it calls 'magnetic field architecture,' which focuses the electromagnetic energy. Not only can the engine levitate on top of passive material, it can also move in multiple directions. Maglev technology needs stay on a set of tracks to maintain balance.


Henderson is still new to giving press interviews and tends to go off on tangents about all the ways the technology could be used. For example, he's also think about how it could be used in the aerospace industry, where they're looking for more efficient takeoff systems. A huge amount of the payload in commercial aviation comes from fuel weight and most of the fuel is used up during takeoff. Arx Pax is hoping that its technology could be used to assist in that takeoff process and cut all of the fuel planes need during takeoff.


'If we can lighten the load by helping them takeoff, then the gas tanks get smaller, the wings get smaller, there's steeper flight takeoff, less noise. It goes on and on,' said Henderson. 'There's this virtuous cycle of everything getting much, much more efficient.'


Henderson says the company has been in talks with many big companies about applying this technology. The problem is that they're slow moving. Up until this time, the company has been funded first on savings from the husband and wife co-founding team and then, once that money ran out, $1.5 million from friends and family. But Henderson has been working on this for quite a while.


'The Loma Prieta earthquake happened in October 1989. That's also around when Back to the Future Marty McFly shows up with his hoverboard in the films,' said Henderson. 'Somehow, those two things combined in my head and I'm thinking about better ways to do things.'


The ideas started in his architecture grad school program where students were given the problem of building a school in San Francisco's Mission Bay, which is on bay mud and subject to liquefaction. Not a good place to build anything.


'I'm an architect, not a scientist,' said Henderson. 'The idea came from being able to levitate buildings out of earthquakes. All of the patents I was looking at were for moving objects. So I asked, why is that? If I can levitate a train, why not a house? We want to use the Hendo hoverboard and hover engines as a way to capture attention and bring attention to an important topic. Our responsibility is to help figure out a better way to build.'


Google says latest search changes will 'visibly affect' piracy site rankings

Google is preparing a new tweak to its search engine to ensure that some of the most 'notorious' piracy sites are less likely to appear when people search for music, films and other copyrighted content.


A previous promise to do this in 2012 has since proved controversial, with music and movie industry bodies regularly claiming Google did not follow through on that promise. This time round, Google says the results will be noticeable.


'In August 2012 we first announced that we would downrank sites for which we received a large number of valid DMCA notices,' wrote Google's senior copyright counsel Katherine Oyama in a blog post published on Friday (17 October).


'We've now refined the signal in ways we expect to visibly affect the rankings of some of the most notorious sites. This update will roll out globally starting next week.'


Oyama did not give details on which sites are being demoted, or by how much their demotions will affect their rankings - the attribute that determines how close to the top of its results a site appears when people search for relevant keywords.


Her announcement was made as Google published a new version of its How Google Fights Piracy report, which was originally launched in September 2013 as a defence against claims by music and film rightsholders that Google was not doing enough on this front.


Oyama also said that Google has been testing new ad formats that show links to legal digital music and video services when people search using keywords including download, free and watch; and removing terms from its autocomplete feature if they 'return results with many DMCA demoted sites'.



DMCA notices are the key to much of this: they're the takedown requests sent by rightsholders (or anti-piracy companies acting on their behalf) to Google alerting it to links that lead to what they believe are infringing downloads or streams.


'In 2013 we received just over 224 million DMCA requests for Google search results,' explains the updated report, which claims that the average time taken to deal with these requests is less than six hours.


'We ultimately removed 222M, which means we rejected or reinstated less than 1% after review because we either needed additional information, were unable to find the page, or concluded that the material was not infringing.'


That's individual links, but the latest change to Google's search algorithm will focus on entire websites.


A guide to those most likely to be affected can be found on Google's online transparency report, which ranks sites by the number of takedowns it has received: RapidGator, 4Shared and Dilandau are the top three in the last year, with more than 7m DMCA notices each.


British music industry body the BPI was the most prolific takedown-sender in 2013, with 43.3m notices. Its chief executive Geoff Taylor has regularly criticised Google for not doing more to tackle piracy, but he welcomed the announcement.


'When fans search for music or films, they should get legal results - it's as simple as that,' said Taylor in a statement that added he was 'encouraged' by Google's latest action.


'If these new steps help guide more consumers to services like Spotify, Deezer and iTunes, which give back to music, instead of to fraudulent torrent or hosting sites, then they would represent a step forward for artists, labels and all those trying to build a thriving music economy online.'


However, the BPI would like to see rival search engines Bing and Yahoo follow suit, while also pressing for Google to delist entirely sites that have been 'ruled illegal by the courts', and to be faster at removing 'pirate apps' from Android's Google Play store.


The delisting request refers to sites that have been blocked by ISPs in the UK after the BPI secured high court orders: The Pirate Bay in 2012, Kickass Torrents, H33T and Fenopy in February 2013, and another 21 sites in October 2013.


Google may push back against pressure to delist sites from its search engine, however.


'Even for the websites that have received the highest numbers of notices, the number of noticed pages is typically only a tiny fraction of the total number of pages on the site,' claims its updated report. 'It would be inappropriate to remove entire sites under these circumstances.'


* Why is the music industry so cross with Google?


This article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Monday 20th October 2014 09.03 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


iTunes by the Numbers: $4.6B Revenue for Q4, $18B Total Revenue in 2014 ...


During its financial results call covering the fourth fiscal quarter (third calendar quarter of 2014), Apple shared details on the success of its iTunes Store, which has become an increasingly important revenue source for the company in recent years, mainly due to the ever-growing popularity of the App Store.


$4.6 billion in revenue marks Apple's most successful iTunes quarter ever, up $2 billion from last year, and its $18 billion in revenue for 2014 is $2b higher than last year's $16 billion in total iTunes revenue.


According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Apple hit an all time high in App Store revenue, with growth of 36 percent compared to Q4 2013. Apple has seen cumulative app downloads of 85 billion, up 10 billion since July. Along with 'tremendous' growth in the App Store, the iTunes Store saw all-time record billings, up 22 percent year over year.


Overall, Apple posted revenue of $42.1 billion and a net quarterly profit of $8.5 billion, or $1.42 per diluted share, compared to revenue of $37.5 billion and net quarterly profit of $7.5 billion ($1.01 per diluted share) in the year-ago quarter.


Beyond the Wallet: Apple Pay 'Cements the Future' of Mobile Payments

We might be one step closer to a wallet-less future.


Apple Pay, the company's mobile payments system that lets you pay for everything from sneakers to groceries with the tap of a finger, finally launched on Monday -- offering long-awaited clarity for retailers and banks that saw a hazy future for mobile payments without a mandate from Apple.


Mention Apple Pay to an Android fan and they'll be quick to point out: very little is new here. Other services including Google Wallet and Softcard (formerly called Isis) have offered Apple Pay-style mobile payments for years.


But those services haven't taken off with customers, and the smartphone-as-a-wallet has remained a niche industry. Now that Apple has finally jumped into the market, mobile payments are as hot as if they were a new piece of technology.


'For years, so many of us knew mobile payments would be the future -- but we weren't sure what exactly that would look like,' Blaine Hurst, the executive vice president of technology at Apple Pay launch partner Panera Bread told NBC News. 'For us [Apple Pay] has really cemented and clarified the near-term future of mobile payments.'


Here's what that future looks like, according to Apple: Like Google Wallet, Apple Pay works using a near-field communication, or NFC, chip. That technology is embedded in the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus (older phones can use a version of Apple Pay for online purchases).



Wave the phone near a store's special NFC reader, confirm by scanning your fingerprint with the TouchID sensor and the payment is complete. For an additional layer of security, a one-time payment code is created for each purchase -- so even if a hacker grabs the information, it can't be used a second time.


Apple Pay rolled out for new iPhone users Monday with an iOS 8.1 software update, and could be used at 220,000 retail stores including Nike, Walgreens and Whole Foods at launch. Right now the system works with Visa, MasterCard and American Express cards issued by big banks including Chase and Bank of America.


On Monday a representative from Panera walked NBC News through an Apple Pay transaction at a New York City location, a few minutes after the iOS 8.1 update came through. It worked almost exactly like a 'normal' transaction: Tell the cashier you'd like a Mediterranean veggie sandwich (no onions), decline a 99-cent pastry ... and when it's time to pay, brandish a phone instead of a card.


'What's ... ? Oh, wow! OK, you're paid up!' said the Panera cashier, for whom it was the first Apple Pay transaction.



Panera rolled out NFC terminals in mid-September and has been accepting mobile payments since then, said Hurst. Cashiers needed very little training, he said, as 'the process is practically the same as it was before.'


The soup-and-sandwich chain became an Apple Pay launch partner after a surprising meeting at the company's headquarters on June 2. Hurst expected to discuss Panera's in-store iPad ordering kiosks and iOS app but instead found himself signing a non-disclosure agreement about a secret new partnership.


'So we went out to build a relationship with them, really, and they said, 'Hey, we're working on this new exciting thing,'' Hurst said. 'That turned out to be Apple Pay.'


Panera put a five-person team on the Apple Pay rollout, which Hurst considers part of his company's years-long 'Panera 2.0' initiative to improve customer service with technology.


'I think Apple has pulled together the entire system, if you will, in a way that other folks haven't done,' Hurst said. 'It's a great additional resource for our customers.'


Apple Pay may be a shiny new addition for retailers like Panera. But for banks and card issuers, it's not a value-add -- it's the core business.


'I've been at MasterCard seven-and-a-half years, and honestly, I was working on mobile payments on day one,' James Anderson, senior vice president of emerging payments at MasterCard, told NBC News. 'We've been trying to figure it out for a number of years -- but when Apple jumps in, it really changes everything.'


Apple and MasterCard started discussing Apple Pay back in early 2013, Anderson said.


'We'd already been talking to Apple for years so they knew what we thought was important, and they either consciously or subconsciously included it in the design,' Anderson said. ''We wanted to build on investments we'd already made, so NFC was a critical issue for us.'


MasterCard assigned more than 100 people to build a new system called MDES -- MasterCard Digital Enablement Service -- which the company revealed on September 10, one day after Apple announced Apple Pay. It's a platform for all types of NFC mobile payments, not just Apple Pay, Anderson stressed.


'This is a huge validation of the choice we made to focus on NFC years ago. It's a great technology. But what's great about Apple is, they can take a technology and turn it into something consumers really want to use,' Anderson said.



That consumer-friendly format coupled with Apple's cool factor is a combination prior mobile wallets have't been able to pull off, said Rob Shavell, the co-founder of Abine, which makes online privacy products including the DoNotTrackMe browser plugin.


'My personal opinion is that they've put together enough of the puzzle pieces -- security, software, hardware -- that it should drive real adoption,' Shavell said. 'I don't think they've been combined before in mobile payments, although that's a pretty low bar.'


Apple was smart to push Apple Pay's security features, including the one-time payment token and the ability to hide card number information from retailers, when pitching mobile payments to consumers who may be unfamiliar with the technology, Shavell said. But he isn't convinced shoppers will be cutting up their credit cards anytime soon.


'The big discussion in payments is, how popular can this really be? I think the honest answer is nobody knows,' Shavell said. 'People in my business are skeptical that any more than 15-20% of merchants will accept this stuff. From my perspective, we are still a long way off -- no matter how successful Apple is -- from being able to leave our credit cards at home.'


James Anderson of MasterCard is more sanguine. He thinks consumers will adopt mobile payments 'quickly now,' he said.


'Of course, everybody in the industry always thinks adoption of new services will happen immediately, and the skeptics say it won't be 100 million years,' he said. 'It typically ends up somewhere in between.'


First published October 20 2014, 2:22 PM


Defect in Takata Air Bags Prompts Urgent Warning to Drivers

Federal auto safety regulators on Monday warned the owners of about 4.7 million vehicles with defective air bags made by the Takata Corporation that they should 'act immediately' to have them fixed.


The unusual action indicates a heightened concern among regulators over the air bags, which are linked to at least two deaths in the United States. In a statement, the agency said its warning was prompted by new test results from Takata.


In regulatory filings, Takata has told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that the propellent - intended to burn quickly and produce gas to inflate the air bag - is defective. When a crash occurs, the propellent is too strong and can rupture its container, shooting metal parts at the driver or front-seat occupant.


The air bags are used in wide range of vehicles recalled over the past two years, including those made by Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan and General Motors. The largest number, about 2.8 million, are made by Honda, followed by Toyota with 778,000.


The safety agency said it was particularly important for the owners of vehicles in states like Florida and Hawaii that have high humidity to act quickly in contacting auto dealers for fixes. Takata has told the safety agency it is concerned that the problem is more likely to occur in such a climate.


Takata Acknowledges Poor Records in Air Bag Recall Air Bag Flaw, Long Known to Honda and Takata, Led to Recalls

Fitbit enters the smartwatch game with the Surge 'fitness superwatch'

Leaked marketing materials show that Fitbit has a fitness-focused $250 smartwatch on the way, with GPS and continuous heart-rate monitoring.


The Verge

Marketing materials leaked to The Verge reveal that Fitbit is preparing to enter the smartwatch market with the Fitbit Surge. The device is being marketed as a 'fitness superwatch' and builds on Fitbit's existing fitness wearable pedigree.


Priced at $249 (roughly AU$285 and £155), the Surge features built-in GPS and continuous PurePulse heart-rate monitoring, as well as the usual suspects when it comes to fitness trackers: active minutes, floor climbs, steps taken and so forth.


Despite the larger size of the Surge, Fitbit are claiming that it's still designed for 24/7 wear and it includes both sleep tracking and silent alarm functions.


The Surge will of course sync all of this data with the Fitbit app, as well as offering smartwatch style functions, such as call and text notifications, as well as music control.


Earlier this month the Fitbit Charge was also leaked -- the Charge appears to be a redesign of the Force after it was withdrawn from market following complaints of skin irritation from wearers. The name Surge was patented by Fitbit back in June this year, as revealed by blogger David Zatz.


At the moment there are no details about launch timing or regional availability, but its anticipated that Fitbit will make a formal announcement about the products this week.


Amazon Kindle Voyage

Amazon's various Kindles have long been the most popular ebook readers on the market, but that doesn't mean they have always been the best from a technology perspective. Barnes & Noble beat Amazon to the punch with a front light, and Kobo eclipsed the company in screen resolution. The Kindle Voyage changes that. Amazon's latest ebook reader is not only the best one it has ever made, it's the best ebook reader currently available. It has a lovely, thin design, with an incredibly sharp display and a useful adaptive front light, not to mention Amazon's excellent ebook store. That said, I'm still not sure this is enough to warrant the $199 price tag when you can pick up our Editors' Choice, the Kindle Paperwhite, for nearly half that amount.



Design and DisplayAt a glance, the Voyage doesn't look all that different from the Paperwhite or the newly refreshed touch-screen Kindle, in the sense that all three share the same general size and form factor. Look closer, though, and lots of important changes emerge. The Voyage measures 6.4 by 4.5 by 0.30 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.3 ounces (or 6.6 ounces for the 3G model), making it the thinnest, lightest Kindle there is. There's less bezel all around, and the screen has been changed from plastic to glass, making the front of the reader completely flush, rather than slightly dipped like on the other models.


The display uses scratch-resistant glass, and has been micro-etched to diffuse light, so you can read outside without any glare. The etching pattern supposedly makes the glass feel more like paper, but I think you get a better sense of this using the Kindle Paperwhite or base Kindle.


The Voyage uses a brand-new Paperwhite display, which has a much higher resolution than any other Kindle; it features 300 pixels per inch, which looks absolutely fantastic. Text is incredibly sharp, no matter the font size, and images look great, so comics really pop (though keep in mind you're still working with a black-and-white E Ink screen). For comparison, the Kobo Aura H2O and Aura HD feature 265 pixels per inch. They all look nearly as good when held side by side, but when you get super close, everything on the Voyage remains uniformly crisp, while the Auras can show just the slightest hint of pixelation. The Voyage is the closest you can get to reading an actual book.


In addition to the higher resolution, the Voyage is noticeably brighter than the Paperwhite (up to 39 percent), thanks to a new front light. Better yet, the light is adaptive, so if you select the Auto Brightness setting, it will automatically adjust based on the light around you. I love this feature. I've been using the first-generation Paperwhite since it came out, and I mostly tend to read on the subway and in coffee shops, which have vastly different lighting scenarios. I rarely adjust the lighting on my Paperwhite to compensate for this, and I didn't realize what a difference it makes until I started using the Voyage. No matter where you use it, the lighting is pretty much perfect.


Another cool feature is that Amazon claims the brightness is tuned to match the way the eye responds to darkness. So if you're reading in the dark, you'll need a brighter light at first than you will after reading for 30 minutes, so the light will slowly turn down over time. I'm slightly concerned that constantly using a light sensor will impact battery life, but then again, you might ultimately wind up using less lighting.


Aside from the glass front panel, the Voyage is made of solid magnesium, with a soft-touch finish reminiscent of the Paperwhite, which gives it a premium, classy feel (though it isn't waterproof like the Kobo Aura H2O). The power port is still on the bottom, but I'm not too fond of the decision to move the Power button to the back of the reader. It's hard to find, and it likely renders any existing case you were hoping to reuse incompatible.



If you're a real Kindle diehard, and haven't upgraded to a touch-screen model for lack of physical Page buttons, rejoice. The Voyage features PagePress, which is basically Amazon's fancy name for Page buttons on either side of the display. I'll focus on this feature more in the Reading section on the next page.


Features The Voyage comes with a black USB cable, but no AC adapter. Amazon claims up to six weeks of battery life based on half an hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light set to 10. That's two weeks more than the Kindle and two weeks less than the Paperwhite, all of which have plenty of time for the average reader.


The Voyage hooks into 802.11b/g/n networks, and a 3G cellular option is still available for an additional $70 extra. It comes with 4GB of storage-the same as the other two Kindles now-which should be good for over 2,000 books. Amazon also stores your purchases in the cloud, so you can retrieve content whenever you'd like, and view it on other devices. Unfortunately, even on the high-end Voyage there's no memory card slot, so there's no way to expand storage. It also makes it a bit more challenging to sideload additional files.


For file support, the Voyage can handle Amazon's own Kindle format (AZW and AZW3), along with DOC, DOCX, HTML, MOBI, PDF, and TXT files. There's still no support for ePub files, which could make it difficult to borrow books from public libraries (though Prime users can borrow certain books for free from Amazon).


Google changes 'to fight piracy' by highlighting legal sites

Google has announced changes to its search engine in an attempt to curb online piracy.


The company has long been criticised for enabling people to find sites to download entertainment illegally.


The entertainment industry has argued that illegal sites should be 'demoted' in search results.


The new measures, mostly welcomed by music trade group the BPI, will instead point users towards legal alternatives such as Spotify and Google Play.


Google will now list these legal services in a box at the top of the search results, as well as in a box on the right-hand side of the page.


Crucially, however, these will be adverts - meaning if legal sites want to appear there, they will need to pay Google for the placement.


The BPI said that while it was 'broadly' pleased with Google's changes, it did not think sites should have to pay.


'There should be no cost when it comes to serving consumers with results for legal services,' a spokesman told the BBC.



In numbers: Piracy battle


The BPI made 43.3 million requests for Google to remove search results in 2013 (the US equivalent group, the RIAA, made 31.6 million) Google removed 222 million results from search because of copyright infringement Google's Content ID system, which detects copyrighted material, scans 400 years-worth of video every day 300 million videos have been 'claimed' by rights holders, meaning they can place advertising on them Source: Google report into piracy

'Instead we have urged Google to use the machine-readable data on the Music Matters website, which lists all services licensed in the UK, and to promote these legal services above illegal sites and results in their search, using appropriate weighting applied fairly and equally across services.'


'Legitimate sources'


Google has also added extra measures to doctor its search results so that links pointing to illegal content fall lower in results, with legal sites floating to the top.


The company has been doing this for several years, but now says it has 'refined the signal' for detecting these links.


To coincide with the announcement, Google published a report into the measures it has put in place across its various websites.


On YouTube, for instance, its Content ID system is able to detect the use of copyrighted material in videos - offering music labels the choice of having the content removed, or monetising it by placing advertising.


But the report stressed the long-held view from Google that the solution to piracy lay in putting effort into creating better legal services, rather than chasing off illegal ones.


'Piracy often arises when consumer demand goes unmet by legitimate supply,' the report said.


'As services ranging from Netflix to Spotify to iTunes have demonstrated, the best way to combat piracy is with better and more convenient legitimate services.'


Ongoing row


The BPI and Google have been at logger-heads over downgrading results for several years.


The music industry has been angered by the way in which a search on Google for 'listen to Katy Perry', or any artist, would sometimes produce results pointing to places to download content illegally.


Often, the illegal sites would rank higher than official outlets such as iTunes.


Google, reluctant to tamper with its 'organic' results, but leant on by the government, has gradually backed down and implemented some measures, although their effectiveness is often disputed.


Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

Other combative measures pushed by the BPI include the blocking of websites such as the Pirate Bay so that UK internet users cannot visit unless they are using specialist software.


Spotify Family plans: separate accounts, one bill

Spotify has introduced a new feature called Family, allowing up to five people to have separate Premium accounts on the one bill.


Spotify


Spotify users who currently share a premium subscription among family members are used to having their playlists and listening history mixed up.


As of today, Spotify has introduced a feature called Family to help give each user separate access to the music streaming service, but still be billed to one account.


'This is one of the most asked for features from our audience,' said Ken Parks, Chief Content Officer at Spotify.


Spotify Family gives each member a Premium subscription: unlimited ad-free streaming across devices, as well as offline listening. A regular Premium subscription costs $9.99 in the US, £9.99 in the UK or AU$11.99 in Australia, per month.


Each Family account can add up to four extra members to the plan at a discounted rate. The full pricing tier per member is as follows:


The company said that the feature will roll out globally in the next few weeks. Other music streaming services that offer Family plans include Rdio, while Beats Music in the US offers this for AT&T customers.


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