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Big tech's abortion travel policies do nothing for its contractor workforce

3 hours 26 min ago

The Supreme Court's ruling last week has overnight transformed many states where abortion access was prohibitively difficult to ones where it is now de factoillegal. Congressional Democrats squandered nearly 50 years of opportunities to strengthen the right to bodily autonomy, and now in the wake of a post-Roe nation, large companies have been attempting to perform some form of triage, but their solutions, among tech firms in particular, often exclude the overwhelming majority of their workforces.

Alphabet, Meta, Amazon, Uber, Lyft and DoorDash have all recently announced or reiterated policies for employees that would cover or offset the cost of traveling out of state to seek medical services, including abortions. While, as Vox's Emily Stewart rightly points out, no one should have to choose between a forced pregnancy or disclosing an abortion to their employer's HR department, the situation is significantly more grim for the hordes of contractors who keep these same businesses afloat and have not been afforded the same options.

What's at stake here is a massive number of workers. In many cases far more than the number of full-timers these companies have on payroll. The most recent estimate, in 2020, for content moderators on Facebook was 15,000 — a number which likely does not encompass moderators on Meta's other social platforms, and almost certainly excludes contingent workers at the company's many offices and data centers. (Its full-time staff, meanwhile, are barred from discussing abortion-related issues at work.)

Amazon has boasted about creating 158,000 sub-contracted roles for its network of delivery service providers. Once again this does not include drivers contracted through its internal Amazon Flex program, data center and office support workers or those handling maintenance at the company's over 1,100 warehouses. Alphabet was the subject of critical reporting in 2018 where it was revealed the majority of workers at the tech giant were not employees. The number of temporary workers, vendors or contractors (TVCs in the company parlance) is not publicly reported, but is estimated to be around 150,000.

For "gig" companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash the balance is even more skewed. Against its approximately 30,000 employees, estimates on the number of contractor drivers working for Uber range from 3.9 million to five million, with about a million of those operating in the US. The most-cited claim is that Lyft has around 1.4 million drivers across the US and Toronto — though the source of that figure is nearly five years old and is likely to be much larger now. DoorDash's 6,000 employees are dwarfed by a claimed fleet of two million couriers.

It's also highly likely (though at this time still unclear) these policies will be inapplicable to part-time employees since these travel reimbursements appear to be administered through employer-provided healthcare, which part-time workers typically do not qualify for. For this reason it's also unclear if these companies had any input into creating these reimbursement programs, or if the credit belongs to their respective health insurance providers. Meta, Amazon, Alphabet and Uber did not respond to requests for comment, while Lyft and DoorDash declined to answer specific questions and passed along existing statements to press.

A Meta spokesperson told Engadget, "We intend to offer travel expense reimbursements, to the extent permitted by law, for employees who will need them to access out-of-state health care and reproductive services. We are in the process of assessing how best to do so given the legal complexities involved."

“It’s paramount that all DoorDash employees and their dependents covered on our health plans have equitable, timely access to safe healthcare," a spokesperson told Engadget. "DoorDash will cover certain travel-related expenses for employees who face new barriers to access and need to travel out of state for abortion-related care.”

"Lyft's U.S. medical benefits plan includes coverage for elective abortion and reimbursement for travel costs if an employee must travel more than 100 miles for an in-network provider," Kristin Sverchek, Lyft President of Business Affairs, wrote in a blog post published June 24. When asked if the company is doing anything for its fleet of drivers, a spokesperson instead pointed to a section of the same blog post where Sverchek wrote that the company is "partnering with [Planned Parenthood] to pilot a Women’s Transportation Access program." No recent mentions of Lyft or the phrase "Women's Transportation Access" appear anywhere in Planned Parenthood's press releases, and the organization did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication. Lyft would not comment on who the program would cover, what access it would provide, what funding it had, where it would operate or when it is projected to launch.

The hollowness of these gestures towards abortion access have not been lost on some workers. The Alphabet Workers Union, a sub-group of the Communications Workers of America, issued a statement yesterday criticizing their namesake company for failing to extend these new policies to contingent workers. "Google announced that full-time employees would have access to relocation services following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. What this fails to address is the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Alphabet temps, vendors and contract workers, who are more likely to be living in states with restricted abortion access, more likely to be workers of color," Parul Koul, a AWU member and Google software engineer wrote.

What has been echoed widely over the past several decades of the Republican project to restrict abortion access is that new barriers — closing down clinics, enacting gestational bans and now the overturning or will not stop abortions from being carried out, they merely make safe abortions harder to obtain. Current projections suggest the number of abortions is only likely to drop around 14 percent. It is all but certain the burden of forced pregnancy will overwhelmingly fall on those who are at an economic disadvantage: those without stable work, good pay, employer-sponsored healthcare or the time and savings to take off from work to seek an out of state abortion. In many cases, the situation described here overlaps precisely with the circumstances of contractors these new reimbursement policies implicitly exclude, and in a sense it makes these companies complicit in the two-tiered access Republicans have largely succeeded in making a reality. Tech companies cannot promise to build the future while vast numbers of their workforces are trapped in 1972.

Niantic is laying off about 90 employees and canceling four projects

6 hours 4 min ago

Pokémon Go developer Niantic is laying off eight percent of its workforce, which is said to be around 85-90 jobs. The augmented reality game company has also canceled four projects. CEO John Hanke reportedly wrote in an email to employees that Niantic was “facing a time of economic turmoil” and had to “further streamline our operations in order to best position the company" to weather any future economic turmoil.

“We recently decided to stop production on some projects and reduce our workforce by about eight percent to focus on our key priorities,” a Niantic spokesperson told Bloomberg, which first reported the news. “We are grateful for the contributions of those leaving Niantic and we are supporting them through this difficult transition.”

One of the games that has been shelved is Transformers: Heavy Metal. Niantic and Hasbro announced that title in 2021 and had been testing it in some markets since last summer. Niantic has also canned an immersive theater project called Hamlet. It was working on that project with theater group Punchdrunk, which is behind an immersive production of Macbeth called Sleep No More. The other two shelved projects are called Blue Sky and Snowball.

Niantic hasn't yet been able to recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle success of 2016's Pokémon Go. The company shut down an AR game based on Harry Potter earlier this year. Bloomberg notes that titles based on Catan (which shuttered last year) and Nintendo's Pikmin haven't been successful either.

News of the layoffs and project cancellations comes one day after Niantic announced NBA All-World, a basketball game it's making in collaboration with the NBA and the league's players' association. Meanwhile, the company will soon release an app that will help Pokémon Go players chat with each other. It's also working on an original game called Peridot and collaborating with other companies on AR apps.

Formula E's Gen3 car will make its race debut on January 14th

6 hours 19 min ago

Formula E’s Gen3 all-electric car will make its race debut on January 14th, 2023 in Mexico City. The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) announced the date on Wednesday and shared the preliminary schedule for Formula E’s upcoming ninth season.

Before the official start of the competition in January, teams will have three days in December to test their new ride in Valencia, Spain. With today’s preliminary schedule, Formula E plans to host 18 races across 13 cities. That’s two more contests and three more stops than its 2022 slate. What’s more, for the first time, the Formula E circuit will visit Hyderabad in India and São Paulo, Brazil.

If you take a look at the schedule, you’ll notice a few gaps. Most notably, Formula E has yet to announce a New York City date. A spokesperson told Engadget the organization is working to organize races in South Africa and the US.

Season 9Formula E

"New York has been the home of Formula E in the USA since Season 3, with the exception of the Covid-hit Season 6 in 2020, and has delivered some epic races in front of full grandstands,” said Formula E chief championship officer Alberto Longo. “Major construction work in the Brooklyn area will make it a challenge to use the current track layout next year which is why we have not announced a specific date on the provisional Season 9 calendar. However, we will continue to work closely with our local partners in Brooklyn to explore solutions for racing in New York next season.”

Next year’s racing debut of the Gen3 is exciting for a couple of reasons. Not only is the car faster than its predecessor, but Formula E also designed it to be more agile. That’s something that should lead to more wheel-to-wheel dueling between drivers, and make the resulting races more entertaining.

Google’s Switch to Android app on iOS now works with all Android 12 devices

6 hours 53 min ago

Google is making it easier for new Android users to transfer their data from an old iPhone. As of today, the company’s Switch to Android app on iOS will work with all Android 12 devices. Previously only compatible with Pixel phones, the software is useful if you're about to move from iOS to Android.

Once you have your new phone, connect it to your old Apple one. Your best bet is a Lightning to USB-C cable, but you can also link the two devices together over WiFi. Once they’re connected, select what data you want to be moved over. Your options include apps, contacts, photos, videos, music and messages. At that point, the software will take care of the rest.

The timing of the wider availability of Switch to Android is interesting in part because WhatsApp recently made it easier for new iOS users to move their chat histories over from an old Android phone. Obviously, Google's app won't help if you switched to Android before today's announcement, but if the headache of transferring your data is what held you back previously, now you have one less reason to wait.    

'Crossy Road' creator Andy Sum's next game will arrive on July 20th

7 hours 4 min ago

Publisher No More Robots has announced that the next game from Crossy Road creator Andy Sum will be released on Steam on July 20th. While Crossy Road is a hit arcade-style title in the vein of Frogger, TombStar takes its cue from bullet hell roguelikes, such as Enter the Gungeon and The Binding of Isaac.

TombStar, which was announced in 2020, is a colorful space Western top-down shooter. There are three characters to choose from, each with their own playstyle. You'll pick up abilities, weapons and perks to aid you in battle against the Grimheart Gang. Each of the worlds has a boss, but since the levels are procedurally generated, each run will be different.

PS Plus games for July include 'Crash 4' and 'Man of Medan'

8 hours 13 min ago

Sony has revealed the three games that all PlayStation Plus subscribers can snap up in July. They are Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, Man of Medan and Arcadegeddon — a notable leaker once again got all three games spot on.

Crash Bandicoot 4 arrived in 2020 and was the first new mainline Crash game in 12 years. It was pegged as a direct sequel to the original PlayStation 1 trilogy — meaning that it ignored all the PS2 games. Both the PlayStation 4 and PS5 versions will be available, with the latter supporting features like the DualSense controller's adaptive triggers and haptic feedback.

Man of Medan is the first title in Supermassive's Dark Pictures Anthology series. It's an interactive horror game in which your choices determine whether characters live or die. However, we felt it didn't hold up as strongly as the studio's previous game, Until Dawn. Man of Medan is hitting PS Plus just after the arrival of Supermassive's latest game, The Quarry.

Arcadegeddon, meanwhile, is a multiplayer shooter from Illfonic that has both co-operative and player vs. player modes. You'll search for loot and unlock abilities as you take on the evil Fun Fun Co. megacorp, which is using an arcade for real-world weapons testing.

This is the first time Sony has refreshed the games on the lowest tier of the new-look PS Plus since it revamped the service. The company said it will continue to offer Essential tier users a couple of games a month that they'll have access to as long as they remain subscribers. Sony will also update the Extra and Premium lineups in the middle of each month.

Crash 4, Man of Medan and Arcadegeddon will be available to claim on July 5th. Until then, you can still add the current batch of PS Plus Essential titlesGod of War (2018), Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker and Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl — to your library.

'Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope' aims to be a more modern tactical adventure

8 hours 33 min ago

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was a pleasant surprise. A charming game that married Nintendo’s Mushroom Kingdom with the chaos of Ubisoft’s Rabbid mascots and crammed it into a game that was, well, pretty much a cartoon interpretation of the tactical strategy series XCOM.

It was an unlikely early hit on the Switch. Ubisoft was able to offer a different kind of game than Nintendo was offering in its first-party titles. Apparently, that was the seed that led Ubisoft Milan Creative Director Davide Soliani to Mario + Rabbids. Talking to Engadget, he said, “[We] should create something that makes sense from Ubisoft’s point of view, something not happening in Nintendo’s catalog.”

Ubisoft fulfilled that brief with Kingdom Battle. Soliani added: “We can match the aesthetics [of Super Mario], using and misusing the elements…. The contrast is the drive.” That’s the context for this sequel, too. 

In Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, Mario et al. (and their Rabbid equivalents) face a shared threat, called Cursa. The blended worlds of Mario and Rabbids are being contorted by darkness, but this time it’s a little more galactic. Expect to see varied worlds, à la Mario Galaxy, with the Lumas of that game being transformed into Sparks, elemental sprites that work like summonable magic attacks in the many, many battles.

That may sound new to anyone that played Kingdom Battle, but there are far bigger changes afoot. We’re yet to play the game, but judging from the new teaser and Davide Soliani’s explanation, it’s going to feel different – less of an XCOM tribute and something between tactical strategy conventions and the manic dashing and leaping of typical Mario games.

 Sparks of HopeUbisoft

Your party of three heroes can now move around in real-time, no more grids. You’ll be able to see how far a character can move within their environment thanks to a white outline, but you’ll be able to figure out cover and optimal attacks on the fly. Each hero will get their turn before the baddies get to, well, return the favor. Soliani says this should help the game to feel more “natural”.

Crucial elements will include where you move your hero (as long as you don’t shoot), utilizing items to extend movement and even using some enemies against other enemies – like hurling a Bob-omb towards some unsuspecting enemies on the other side of an area. Like Kingdom Battle, the synergy with other heroes will be crucial in tackling the biggest enemies.

Alongside companion elemental Sparks, which will grow in abilities as your characters do, each hero will have their own unique weapon this time, running the gamut from melee weapons like swords through to dual pistols and even bows. (You can’t have a game in the 2020s without including a bow.)

You’ll be joined by some new characters, including a Rabbid with a sword called Edge. (Dumb, I love it.) and age-old rival Bowser, who’s apparently a heavy-hitter equipped with what appears to be a bazooka.

More freedom in battles is mirrored in the game too. The worlds you’ll explore should feel more open-ended than the areas of its predecessor. Explore planets, take on fetch quests (this is a Ubisoft game after all), solve the major darkness problems of this specific planet – or just do the bare minimum and move on to the next part of the game.

 Sparks of HopeUbisoft

This should all help Sparks of Hope feel a little more contemporary – aided by a pretty incredible array of musical talent. Kingdom Battle composer Grant Kirkhope, who also contributed to Rare’s epic run of Nintendo 64 games, returns, joined by Gareth Croker (Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Halo Infinite) and Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy XV). Those are some gaming music heavyweights which should help ensure all these different worlds sound as different as they’ll look.

Judging from the teaser and Soliani’s comments, Ubisoft is evolving Mario + Rabbids at a swift clip, modernizing the battle system and adding further strategic wrinkles and customization to fights. Sparks of Hope could feel like a different sort of tactical battle game, and if they nail the synergy like the first game, it could be just as entertaining.

'Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration' brings together more than 90 games this fall

8 hours 40 min ago

With Atari turning 50 this year, the brand’s current owner plans to celebrate with a collection that brings together five decades of games. Announced today, the aptly named Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration will include more than 90 titles spanning the Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, ST, Jaguar and Lynx. What’s more, Atari hired Digital Eclipse, a studio that’s best known for its work on The Disney Afternoon Collection and the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, to oversee the project.

"When it comes to emulation or bringing classics back or doing really any sort of remastering or reimagining, I don't know if there's anybody who does it better than Digital Eclipse, so they were always our first choice," Atari CEO Wade Rosen told Game Informer.

Atari has yet to share a complete list of the games that will appear on the compilation, but in addition to many classics, the collection will include six new retro-inspired games. One of those is a sequel to 1981’s Haunted House for the Atari 2600. Haunted Houses will feature modern 3D voxel-based graphics and new levels for players to explore. Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration will cost $40 when it arrives later this year on Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, PC and Atari VCS.

Blizzard buys 'Spellbreak' studio Proletariat to speed up 'WoW' development

9 hours 22 min ago

It's a busy spell for Blizzard, with Diablo Immortal, Overwatch 2 and mobile game Warcraft Arclight Rumble all arriving this year. The studio has another major release lined up in the form of World of Warcraft expansion Dragonflight, which is expected to arrive by the end of 2022. To help get WoW expansions out on time and ensure they meet the bar in terms of quality, Blizzard bought Spellbreak studio Proletariat to bolster its ranks of developers, as GamesBeat reports.

The news comes one day after Proletariat announced it will shut down Spellbreak early next year. The free-to-play game is an intriguing take on the battle royale genre, with players using magical powers instead of guns. The game never took off, though. It had an average player count of 166 on Steam over the last month. Apex Legends, on the other hand, has more than a thousand times as many players at any given time on Steam alone.

More than 100 developers from Proletariat will now be focused on World of Warcraft, though the studio has been working with Blizzard since last month. The Boston-based studio also plans to expand its team.

WoW general manager John Hight has spoken of the difficulties his team has had in hiring to deliver content updates to players more quickly (the publicturmoil at the studio over the last year might have played a role in that). Bringing Proletariat on board should help.

“A big part of caring for our teams is making sure we have the resources to produce experiences our communities will love while giving our teams space to explore even more creative opportunities within their projects,' Blizzard Entertainment president Mike Ybarra said. "Proletariat is a perfect fit for supporting Blizzard’s mission in bringing high-quality content to our players more often.”

Activision Blizzard is itself in the process of being bought by Microsoft for $68.7 billion. Given the ongoing labor and workplace culture issues at the company, there's a bit of irony in Blizzard snapping up a studio called Proletariat.

A bundle with the Echo Show 5 and a Ring Doorbell is only $85 for Prime members

10 hours 37 min ago

Amazon has pulled another solid deal out of its hat ahead of Prime Day. Prime members can now snag a bundle of the Echo Show 5 and Ring Video Doorbell for $85. You'd essentially be getting the smart doorbell for free, as Echo Show 5 typically costs the same price. The Ring Doorbell normally costs $100 by itself. The standard price of the bundle is $150, which is already $35 less than the products cost separately.

Buy Echo Show 5 and Ring Doorbell bundle at Amazon - $85

The current version of the Alexa-enabled Echo Show 5 arrived a year ago. We gave it a score of 85 in our review, finding the decent sound quality and bedside-table size to be plus points. The tap-to-snooze option is useful too. However, the interface perhaps isn't as intuitive as it could be and, while it has a better webcam than the first version of the device, it's still only 2MP.

Meanwhile, the second-gen version of Ring Video Doorbell arrived in 2020. It offers up to 1080p HD video, an improvement over the original model's 720p resolution. You can view a video feed from the device on Echo Show 5 as well as on a phone, tablet or PC. The doorbell can run on battery power alone. It can also be hardwired or connected to a Ring solar charger.

Amazon says the device offers better night vision than the first-gen doorbell as well as adjustable motion zones. There's a privacy zone option that allows you to block out certain parts of the field of view from recordings as well. Given that the second-gen Ring Video Doorbell is two years old, this deal could be an instance of Amazon trying to offload existing stock ahead of a possible next-gen model.

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The post-Roe data privacy nightmare is way bigger than period tracking apps

11 hours 53 min ago

Since the Supreme Court’s draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade leaked, influencers, activists and privacy advocates have urged users to delete period-tracking apps from their devices and remove their information from associated services. With abortion now outlawed in several states, data from such apps could be used in criminal investigations against abortion seekers, and a missed period — or even simply an unlogged one — could be used as evidence of a crime.

These services, like many “wellness” apps, are not bound by HIPAA, and many have long histories of shady practices resulting in fines and regulatory scrutiny. Mistrust in them is well-founded. However, calls to delete period tracking or fertility apps are obscuring what privacy experts say is a much larger issue.

“Period tracking apps are the canary in the coal mine in terms of our data privacy,” says Lia Holland, campaigns and communications director for Fight for the Future, an advocacy group focused on digital rights. While submitting data to a cycle tracking app could lead to being "outed by your phone," they said, there are numerous other ways actionable data could make its way to law enforcement. “That outing [...] could just as easily happen because of some game you installed that is tracking your location to a Planned Parenthood clinic.”

India McKinney, director of federal affairs for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, offered similar words of warning about commonplace and seemingly innocuous online activities. "Search history, browser history, content of communication, social media, financial transactions [..] all of this stuff is not necessarily related to period trackers but could be of interest to law enforcement.”

This isn't an abstract problem either: Before the constitutional right to an abortion was overturned, there were already cases where pregnant women had their search histories and text messages used against them after their pregnancies ended.

In one widely cited case, a woman in Mississippi who had a stillbirth at home was charged with murder because she had searched for abortion pills online. (The charges were eventually dropped.) In another case, an Indiana woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide after prosecutors cited her text messages as evidence her miscarriage had been a self-induced abortion. “Prosecutors argued that she’d taken abortion-inducing drugs purchased online, which is illegal in the United States, but police could not find evidence, beyond text messages discussing it, that the drugs were purchased,” according toThe Cut. Her conviction was ultimately overturned but only after she spent three years in prison.

There are other, more insidious ways people seeking abortions can be tracked online. A recent investigation from Reveal and The Markup found that Facebook’s advertising tools — which siphon data from vast swaths of the web, including some hospitals — were used by anti-abortion groups to keep tabs on people seeking abortion services, despite Meta’s rules against collecting such data. Data collected by the groups was also shared with separate anti-abortion marketing firms, which could allow them to target ads to “abortion-minded women,” according to the report. Experts who spoke to Reveal noted that the same data could easily be turned over to law enforcement.

Merely visiting a physical location could be enough to put someone at risk. Data brokers already track and sell location data related to abortion clinic visits. Last month, Motherboardreported that one data broker, SafeGraph, was selling a week’s worth of location data for Planned Parenthood and other clinic locations that included “where groups of people visiting the locations came from, how long they stayed there, and where they then went afterwards,” for as little as $160. The source of those datasets showing visits to reproductive health clinics? “Ordinary apps installed on peoples’ phones.”

After the report, SafeGraph said it would stop selling datasets related to locations of family planning centers. But that doesn’t mean the apps on your phone stopped tracking where you’re going. And SafeGraph is just one of many companies in the shadowy and mostly unregulated multibillion-dollar data broker industry.

“Most people don't know the apps on their phone are doing this,” says Holland. “And in fact, a lot of developers who build these apps — because they use these very easy-to-use preset tools that have that blackbox surveillance hidden within them — don't even know that their own apps are endangering abortion patients.”

Concern about this sort of broad location-tracking led lawmakers to urge Google to change its data collection practices for the protection of people seeking reproductive healthcare. They cited the now-common practice of geofence warrants, which are “orders demanding data about everyone who was near a particular location at a given time.” Last month they cautioned that if Roe were to be overturned "it is inevitable that right-wing prosecutors will obtain legal warrants to hunt down, prosecute and jail women for obtaining critical reproductive health care." Despite the urgency around data collection practices for tech companies — and what new legal obligations they might now have to turn that data over to law enforcement — the industry's largest companies have thus far remained silent.

So while concerns about period tracking apps are valid, they are only a small piece of a much larger problem. And deleting the services from your phone won’t be enough, on its own, to ensure your personal data can’t be used against you. But though users may be badly outmatched by a vast and largely unregulated industry, they aren't entirely helpless.

Holland and McKinney pointed to the importance of protecting your private messages and browsing history, via encrypted messaging apps and privacy-protecting browsers. When it comes to menstrual tracking apps, Holland recommends looking for apps that only store data locally, not in the cloud. And if you’re visiting a place where you don’t want your phone to track you, the safest option is to simply leave your phone at home, says McKinney. “Your phone is tracking you so leave it at home if you don't want it to know where you go.”

Ultimately, though, both Holland and McKinney agree the onus of privacy should not fall on the individual. Lawmakers need to enact privacy legislation that curtails around what kind of data apps can collect. “Right now, there's not a whole lot of restrictions on what companies can do with people's data,” says McKinney. “We really do need legislation to fix a lot of the stuff on the back end, and not make it so that [I] have to do research to figure out what are the best privacy practices that I need to undertake before I deal with a particularly stressful situation in my life.”

Snapchat+ is a new $4 monthly subscription service for 'passionate' users

11 hours 57 min ago

Snap is launching an optional subscription service offering "exclusive, experimental, and pre-release features," it announced. The $4 a month service is aimed at "passionate" snapchat users and launching this week in the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The exclusive features are modest to start with, including the ability to change the app icon, see who re-watched a story and pin a friend to the top of your chat history as a "BFF," Snapchat SVP Jacob Andreou told The Verge. Some of those features like BFF will only be available to subscribers, but others may filter over to the main Snapchat app.

Snap relies mainly on its advertising model for revenue, so the new service is a break from that. It also makes money selling hardware like its Spectacles smart glasses and new Pixy drone, but that revenue is relatively small change compare to its ad business. The company recently announced a hiring freeze during its last earnings report and saw its stock price plunge dramatically over the last two months. 

Solo Stove's fire pits are up to 45 percent off for July 4th

12 hours 14 min ago

If you missed Solo Stove's Memorial Day sale, you have another chance to pick up one of the fire pits for less ahead of the July 4th holiday. Solo Stove has knocked up to 45 percent off fire pits again, so you can grab the Ranger for $200, the Bonfire for $220 and the Yukon for $400. These are some of the best prices we've seen on Solo Stove's devices, and if you want to get all of the things you'll need to use the fire pit in your backyard, a number of bundles have also been discounted, too.

Shop Solo Stove July 4th saleBuy Ranger at Solo Stove - $200Buy Bonfire at Solo Stove - $220Buy Yukon at Solo Stove - $400

We've recommended Solo Stove fire pits a few times in the past as they are solid alternatives to standard fire pits. All of the models actively channel smoke away from you while you're using it thanks to their double-walled design that pulls hot air through vent holes and back into the fire. This keeps flames hot while reducing smoke and creating fine ashes.

Two out of the three Solo Stove models are also fairly portable, so you can bring them with you on a camping trip or to a party without much hassle. The 38-pound Yukon, however, is probably best left in a semi-permanent spot in your backyard. And while you don't need any accessories to use these fire pits, there are some that might make the experience even better. For example, the essential bundle includes the fire pit of your choice plus a stand and lid. The backyard bundle includes all of those things, too, plus a shield that keeps pops and embers from escaping and a weather-resistant cover.

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Hyundai shows off its Ioniq 6 electric vehicle for the first time

12 hours 23 min ago

Hyundai has revealed the design for Ioniq 6, its upcoming electric vehicle that was inspired by the Prophecy concept EV it showed off in 2020. It retains the Prophecy's futuristic elements without looking like it was a prop made for a sci-fi movie, with its aerodynamic profile and clean lines. Hyundai says the vehicle will have an ultra-low drag coefficient of 0.21 — most modern cars have an average drag coefficient of 0.25 or 0.3 — thanks to its low nose and active air flaps, among other elements. Its elliptical wing-inspired spoiler and slight boat-tail structure help make it more aerodynamic, as well. 

Inside, the Ioniq 6 has a cocoon-shaped interior that's trimmed in sustainable materials, such as eco-process leather or recycled PET fabric for its seats. The company's modular platform for electric vehicles enabled its designers to stretch the car's dimensions and give it a completely flat floor for more legroom and space. For its entertainment and navigation system, it has a modular touchscreen dashboard with a 12-inch touchscreen display and a 12-inch digital cluster. 

HyundaiHyundai

The automaker has yet to announce the EV's specs, but to give you an idea, the Ioniq 5 has a 72.6-kWh battery that can deliver up to 300 miles of range. It also boasts 320 horsepower, 446 pound-feet of torque and the capability to go from 0 to 60 MPH in under 5 seconds. Hyundai will reveal the Ioniq 6's full specifications and features during its world premiere in July.

Most of Amazon's Eero 6 routers are on sale ahead of Prime Day

12 hours 38 min ago

We're fast approaching Prime Day, one of the biggest online shopping events of the year, but Amazon isn't waiting to slash the prices of some of its own products. The company has discounted several Eero 6 routers exclusively for Prime members. The standard Eero 6, for instance, is down from $89 to $71 for Prime members. That matches the lowest price we've seen to date.

Buy Eero 6 at Amazon (Prime exclusive) - $71

As with the other models, the Eero 6 is a mesh router. The price is for a single node. The router supports WiFi 6 with speeds of up to 900Mbps and the ability to connect more than 75 devices. Amazon says the device will cover up to 1,500 square feet. The company's TrueMesh tech prioritizes traffic to certain devices — a TV streaming a movie in 4K will require much more bandwidth than a smart thermostat, for instance. With the Zigbee smart home hub, which is built in, Eero 6 will connect Zigbee-compatible devices to Alexa.

Several other Eero models have dropped to new all-time low prices. Among them is the Eero 6+, which is $90, down from $139. This model supports speeds up to a gigabit and has two 1Gbps Ethernet ports. You may also get faster connectivity thanks to support for 160 MHz client devices.

Buy Eero 6+ at Amazon (Prime exclusive) - $90

The Eero Pro 6 also costs less than it ever has to this point. Amazon has lowered the price from $229 to $148. The device can cover 2,000 square feet and it supports speeds of up to 1Gbps.

Buy Eero Pro 6 at Amazon (Prime exclusive) - $148

In addition, the Eero Pro 6E is on sale. It's down to $179, which is $120 off the regular price. As the name suggests, this router supports the WiFi 6E protocol and more than 100 connected devices. It provides speeds of up to 1.3Gbps over WiFi and 1Gbps via Ethernet. Each node covers up to 2,000 square feet. Along with Zigbee products, you can use the Eero Pro 6E as a home hub for Thread devices (Pro 6 has Thread support too.)

Buy Eero Pro 6E (Prime exclusive) at Amazon - $179

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Firefox can now automatically remove tracking from URLs

13 hours 1 min ago

Mozilla's latest Firefox browser release has a new feature that prevents sites like Facebook from tracking you across websites, Bleeping Computer has reported. Called Query Parameter Stripping, it automatically removes strings of characters added to the end of an URL that allow Facebook, Hubspot, Olytics and other companies to track your clicks and serve targeted ads.

You've likely noticed these queries when you click on a link that comes from Facebook, for example. Rather than showing "https://www.engadget.com/example.html," it might show something like "https://www.engadget.com/example.html?fbclid=aa7-V4yb6Yfit_9_Pd" (not a real example). 

That jumble of characters after the question mark is a query parameter that can tell a company you've clicked on a link, helping them profile you for ad targeting. If you enable the stripping feature in the latest version of Firefox, it'll remove those characters before loading the URL, so Facebook will be none the wiser. It works via a blocklist and covers Olytics, Drip, Vero, HubSpot, Marketo and Facebook. 

To enable the feature, you simply select "Strict" for "Enhanced Tracking Protection" in the Privacy & Security settings. That doesn't work in Private Mode, but you can turn it on there too by typing "about:config" in the address bar, searching for strip and setting the 'privacy.query_stripping.enabled.pbmode' option to true, as Bleeping Computer points out. 

The Morning After: Google tries keeping political campaign emails out of Gmail spam

13 hours 37 min ago

Google’s Gmail has generally rigorous spam filters, but they can sometimes be too rigorous. Google is working on a way to ensure emails from US political campaigns reach users' inboxes instead of automatically getting tagged as spam.

The company has asked the Federal Election Commission for approval on a plan to make emails from "authorized candidate committees, political party committees and leadership political action committees registered with the FEC" exempt from spam detection. That said, missives will still have to abide by Gmail's rules on phishing, malware and illegal content. Google spokesperson José Castañeda told Axios: “We want Gmail to provide a great experience for all of our users, including minimizing unwanted email, but we do not filter emails based on political affiliation."

One reason Gmail puts many campaign emails in the spam folder is other users often mark the missives as spam.

— Mat Smith

The biggest stories you might have missed

HTC’s latest phone is a baffling one centered around the metaverseNo, not sure what that means either.TMAHTC

The HTC Desire 22 Pro supports HTC's Viverse ecosystem so users can visit communities using their browsers, even without VR devices. It's also compatible with the company's $499 Vive Flow VR headset and can pair with the device if users want to explore experiences, watch movies and TV or just access their apps in virtual reality.

The spec sheet is otherwise middling, and most of the metaverse / VR appeal comes from other HTC hardware.

Continue reading.

Airbnb is banning party houses permanentlyParty’s over.

Airbnb is permanently banning all parties and events at all host properties, globally. It follows a temporary 2020 ban it instituted to comply with COVID-related social distancing restrictions. "Over time, the party ban became much more than a public health measure," Airbnb said in a blog post. "It developed into a bedrock community policy to support our Hosts and their neighbors."

Continue reading.

Facebook and Instagram are blocking posts about mailing abortion pillsEven if they're outside the US.

If you post on Facebook or Instagram about being able to mail abortion pills, don't be surprised if you get a warning — or even get your account restricted. A tipster told Motherboard they were notified a minute after posting "I will mail abortion pills to any one of you" that their status update had been removed. When they tried to post it again later, they were banned. We replicated the restriction measure.

Continue reading.

NASA takes a step towards putting humans back on the MoonIts CAPSTONE launch will help NASA's space station safely orbit the Moon.TMANASA

Rocket Lab has successfully launched NASA's 55-pound CAPSTONE CubeSat that will eventually orbit the Moon — if all goes to plan. It's a small but important step in NASA's Artemis mission to send humans to the Moon for the first time since 1972. Rocket Lab used an Electron rocket with a special addition called the Lunar Photon upper stage, with enough power to send it into deep space. It's one of the smallest rockets to attempt to launch a payload to lunar orbit.

Continue reading.

Both of Valve's classic Portal games arrive on Switch todayThe $20 Portal Companion Collection includes the complete Portal experience.

Yesterday’s Nintendo Direct presentation, among a fewother things, revealed that the Portal Companion Collection is now out on Switch, priced at $19.99. The collection includes both the original Portal from 2007 as well as the more expansive, story-driven Portal 2. While the original Portal was strictly a single-player experience, Portal 2 has a split-screen co-op experience; you can also play this mode with a friend online as well.

Continue reading.

Bowers & Wilkins debuts a redesigned version of its Px7 headphones

13 hours 53 min ago

Bowers & Wilkins first introduced the Px7 noise-canceling headphones in 2019, effectively replacing the PX in its personal audio line. Now the British company that's perhaps best know for its high-end home speakers has returned with a new version of the over-ear model. With the Px7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins has completely overhauled the Px7, from the design to the sound and the active noise cancellation (ANC). What's more, the company offers all of the upgrades with the same $399 price tag. 

The Px7 S2 features an "all-new construction" that Bowers & Wilkins says will keeps things comfy during longer listening sessions. More specifically, the company has opted for a slimmer shape and better cushioning in the earpads while trimming the overall weight. This new model is also available in three new color options: grey, blue and black. Physical controls are still available on the headphones, with buttons for power, volume, track controls and calls on the right side. A customizable button on the left earcup gives you quick access to noise canceling settings or a voice assistant. 

Inside, the company says it has built a new acoustic platform that powers 40mm drivers. Bowers & Wilkins further explains that the speakers were specifically built with "ultra-fast response" that's capable of hitting "every nuance" of the music you're listening to. The drivers are also angled to kepp "consistent distance" from your ear for a more natural soundstage. The company has developed its own digital signal processing (DSP) that can handle 24-bit streaming from your go-to music services with support for aptX Adaptive, aptX HD, aptX, AAC and SBC codecs. 

In terms of ANC, the Px7 uses four microphones: two that measure the driver output and two that monitor ambient sound. The company says it has revised the noise-canceling algorithm as well for better performance. When it comes to calls, Bowers & Wilkins has changed both the microphone position and tweaked the digital signal processing to compete with noisy venues. ANC settings and transparency mode can also be activated in the company's Music App for the first time on its headphones, along with the ability to adjust the EQ as you see fit. Soon, the software will also allow you to stream music via an in-app player with an upcoming update. 

Bowers & Wilkins says the Px7 S2 will last up to 30 hours on a charge, though it doesn't specify if that's with ANC on or off. The company did explain that it upgraded the quick-charge feature from the previous model, giving you seven hours of listening time in 15 minutes. That's two more hours than before, in the same amount of time. 

Lastly, Bowers & Wilkins has teased its upcoming flagship headphone model, the Px8. Details are scarce for now, but the company says you can expect "reference-level" sound and "luxurious materials" for $549 later this year. If you can't wait for a new set of cans, the Px7 S2 is available starting today from the company's website and select retailers.  

Meta admits to ‘incorrect’ moderation of posts about abortion pills

14 hours 8 min ago

Facebook has been inconsistently enforcing its rule against buying or selling tobacco, marijuana, as well as medical and non-medical drugs in relation to abortion pills. Motherboard recently reported that the website has been flagging posts saying "abortion can be mailed" and has even been temporarily restricting some accounts. Engadget was able to independently verify the information. As social media companies start dealing with content related to the outcome of the Roe v. Wade ruling last week, Meta has admitted to the 'incorrect enforcement' of posts that may trigger rules relating to the buying and selling of pharmaceuticals on its platforms.

Gizmodo reports that Meta communications director Andy Stone has admitted that the website has "discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement" when it comes to its rule against the buying and selling pharmaceuticals. He also said that the company is correcting those instances. 

Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals is not allowed. Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed. We've discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these.

— Andy Stone (@andymstone) June 27, 2022

In a tweet responding to Motherboard's story, Stone said content attempting to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals aren't allowed. However, content discussing the "affordability and accessibility of prescription medication" is. Posting "abortion pills can be mailed" shouldn't be flagged if that's the case, though it may run afoul of other rules related to promoting crime.

Gizmodo ran a test by posting "abortion pills can be mailed" on different accounts and found that Facebook was only flagging the status update if it was posted on a burner account, or an account that's not regularly used. We were able to verify that, as well. The post we made on a barely used account was flagged, but the update we posted on our main account wasn't. 

We also tried posting about other pharmaceuticals and medicine on our accounts. Our post that said "I'm selling ivermectin, PM me" was flagged, but the one that said "ivermectin can be mailed" wasn't. That's consistent with the website's rule. Our post saying "I'm selling cigarettes," however, wasn't flagged. We also tried posting "You can get abortion pills mailed from Aid Access," which shouldn't have been flagged if "affordability and accessibility of prescription medication" is allowed on the platform. We got restricted barely a minute after posting that on our burner account.

As you can see, enforcement of the rule has been inconsistent, and it's not quite clear why the exact same content doesn't get flagged on a frequently used account when it gets a warning on a barely used one. By flagging content about the mailing of abortion pills, Facebook could be preventing that information from getting to people who need it. Especially since it flags even the status updates of users outside the US. 

The main Facebook website isn't the only Meta property that's been removing information about abortion pills. According to the Associated Press, Instagram has also been deleting posts about the mailing of abortion pills, though our search for #abortionpills yielded over 1,000 results. 

Nikon's mirrorless Z30 is an affordable, lightweight vlogging camera

15 hours 16 min ago

Nikon has unveiled the 20.9-megapixel APS-C Z30, its smallest and lightest Z-series camera yet. Designed for vloggers and creators, it offers a flip-out display, 4K 30p video and a long 125-minute video record time when plugged in — but lacks an electronic viewfinder. 

The Z30 is Nikon's third APS-C (DX) mirrorless camera so far, after the Z50 and Z fc models. It uses the same giant Z-mount as the company's full-frame models, which effectively dominates the relatively small body. It has a simple but effective control setup with a mode dial on top, front and rear dials to set exposure, a photo/video selector switch, and buttons for ISO, exposure compensation, AF-lock and shooting mode. A new feature over the other DX models is a tally light on front so vloggers can see when they're recording.

Nikon's lightweight Z30 mirrorless APS-C camera targets content creatorsNikon

The hand grip is deep for such a small camera, but due to the large mount, there's not a ton of room between the lens for your fingers. As mentioned, it has a fully-articulating 3.0-inch screen that activates self-portrait mode when flipped out, letting you set key controls like exposure compensation with the camera at at arm's length. Other key features include built-in stereo mics, a microphone input and a single UHS-I SD memory card slot. Unfortunately, it lacks a headphone jack which is a negative for video creators. 

The Z30 competes with Sony's ZV-E10 vlogging camera and has one advantage over its rival. It can shoot 4K at up to 30fps using the full width of the sensor, where Sony's model has a 1.23x crop at 30fps. That's fairly important for vlogging, as a crop makes it harder to get yourself into the shot. It can also shoot 1080p at up to 120 fps for slow-mo, but unlike the ZV-E10, doesn't support log capture — only a "flat" profile. Like its Sony rival, the Z30 has no built-in IBS — only electronic stabilization.

Nikon promises reliably fast and sharp hybrid phase-detect autofocus with face, eye and animal AI detection. It's likely similar to the AF on the Z50 and Z fc models, which are decent but lag behind Sony's APS-C cameras in terms of AF speed and accuracy. It offers a picture control auto function depending on the scene, along with 20 creative profiles. However, there's no one-click "product showcase" or bokeh options like Sony offers on the ZV-E10. 

It has a relatively small battery (the same on the other two DX models) giving it a 330 shot CIPA rating. Unlike the Z50 and Z fc which were limited to 30 minutes, the Z30 can record up to 125 minutes of 1080p video and about 35 minutes of 4K. To get those figures, though, you'll have to plug the camera's USB-C port to power. 

Nikon Z30 APS-C mirrorless cameraNikon

Nikon promises good photography performance as well, but it's already behind the 8-ball in that area without an electronic viewfinder. Still, you get shooting speeds up to 11 fps (mechanical shutter, JPEG/RAW), hybrid phase-detect AF and even the ability to shoot a photo while recording video. 

The Z30 arrives in mid-July at $710 for the body only, $850 with a kit Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, or $1,200 with the Nikkor Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 lens. Another option coming in November is the 14-140mm f/3.5-6.3 lens for $1,150. Nikon will also offer a Creators Accessory Kit for $150 with a SmallRig tripod grip, Nikon ML-L7 Bluetooth remote and a Rode VideoMicro microphone.

Along with the camera, Nikon also unveiled a new full-frame Z-mount lens, the Z400mm f/4.5 VR S. Nikon says it's the lightest lens in its class at 2.55 pounds, offers dust- and drip-resistant performance and a focus-breathing compensation function for video recording. It arrives in July 2022 for $3,250. 

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