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Google tries social again by finding the best places to go or whatever

(TECH NEWS) Google has tried and failed social networking for years; their newest attempt is by following guides to the best sites, food, and businesses

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Google, as Google does, is once again trying to be all things to all people. Its latest move is to combine the follow feature of social networks like Facebook and Instagram, reviews of businesses and restaurants like you’d see on Yelp, and maps.

Apparently, Google already has a program called Local Guides, launched in 2015, in which users can earn status and perks for contributing a lot of detailed reviews and photos to business listings in Maps. It’s Google’s answer to Yelp Elites. Local Guides are a bit like critics, a bit like influencers, a bit like tour guides, and a bit like that local friend you call because they always know the best place to get a bite to eat, which stores are having a sale, or which venue is hosting a great show. Local Guides make it a little easier to get to know a town, whether you just moved in, are just visiting, or are looking for new places to check out in your own hometown.

There are about 120 million Local Guides in 24,000 locations. In exchange for beefing up Google’s content, Local Guides get rewarded with freebies, discounts, access to exclusive features, coupons, and invitations to in-person meetups.

It was at such a meetup, the annual Connect Live Local Guides summit, that Google recently announced its pilot program for a feature wherein a user can “follow” their favorite Local Guides by hitting a follow button on the guide’s profile page. After following a local guide, you can search Google Maps and that guide’s content will appear along with your search results. A photo collage from the guide’s review will pop up first, and by clicking on the photos you can access the text of the review.

Google is trying out the feature in the U.S. in New York and San Francisco, and internationally in Bangkok, Delhi, London, Mexico City, Osaka, Tokyo, and São Paulo.

The new feature seems to part of Google’s attempt to take on Facebook as the primary place to find out about local businesses, events, sales, and other goings on. A year ago, Google started allowing users to follow local businesses’ listings in Maps, much as you would a business’s Facebook page. And this past summer, Google rolled out more features for businesses to flesh out their profiles on Google Maps with photos and updates, and to connect with customers.

I must admit that as a frequent user of Google Maps, I’ve never even noticed the Local Guides feature. So I’m a bit skeptical as to whether or not this concept will take off. After all, Google’s past attempts to crack into social networking with Google Plus have been more or less a bust.

Nonetheless, there does seem to be a certain logic to adding more informational and connective features to the Maps app. After all, if you’re looking for a seafood restaurant or consignment store near you, you’re not going to go to Facebook and browse through a bunch businesses’ pages, hoping to find one nearby. Unless you already know the name of business, Facebook isn’t going to help you much. You’re going to open Maps, because it will find the businesses that are closest to your location. Yelp is great because of the quality of the reviews, but if you could find those reviews without leaving the Maps app, why would you?

While I don’t see Local Guides becoming a bustling social network, I don’t see why you shouldn’t follow a Local Guide whose opinion you’ve come to trust. Whereas social networks like Instagram and Facebook are designed to keep your eyes on the screen and your thumbs scrolling, using Maps to find business locations is all about getting you out and about in the world. By borrowing features from social networking, Google can make it a little easier for users to find out exactly where they want to go – so that they can put down the phone and start dining, drinking, shopping, and enjoying themselves.

Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

Tech News

Google set to release new AI-operated meeting room kit… and it’s pretty baller

(TECH NEWS) Google’s newest toy is designed to “put people first” by alleviating video and audio issues for conference room meetings.

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Google Meet Series One is a new meeting kit that puts people first.

Remote meetings can be the worst sometimes. The awful video and audio quality are frustrating when you’re trying to hear important details for an upcoming project. Even with the fastest internet connection, this doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to clearly hear or see anyone who’s in the office. But Google is re-imagining conference rooms with their new video conferencing hardware.

Yesterday, the company introduced Google Meet Series One. In partnership with Lenovo, this meeting room kit is made exclusively for Google Meet and is poised to be the hardware that “puts people first.”

The Series One has several components that make it stand out. First is the “Smart Audio Bar,” powered by eight beam-forming microphones. Using Google Edge TPUs, the soundbar can deliver TrueVoice®, the company’s “proprietary, multi-channel noise cancellation technology.” It removes distracting sounds, like annoying finger and foot-tapping noises, so everyone’s voices are crystal clear from anywhere in the room.

The hardware also has 4K smart cameras that allow for high-resolution video and digital PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) effects. Processed with Google AI, the device knows to automatically zoom in and out so all of the meetings’ participants are framed in the camera. With an i7 processor and Google Edge TPUs, the system is built to “handle the taxing demands of video conferencing along with running the latest in Google AI as efficiently and reliably as possible.”

The meeting kit has Google grade security built-in, so the system automatically updates over-the-air. The system also works seamlessly with Google services and apps we already use. Its touch control display is powered by a single ethernet cable. From the admin controls, you can manage meeting lists and control room settings. Powered by assistant voice commands, their touch controller provides a “touchless touchability”; if you want to, you can join a meeting just by saying, “Hey Google, join the meeting.”

These new meeting kits are easy to install and are versatile. They can be configured to fit small, medium, and large-sized rooms. “Expanding kits for larger rooms can be done with just an ethernet cable and the tappable Mic Pod, which expands microphone reach and allows for mute/unmute control.”

According to the Google Meet Series One introductory video, the meeting room kits are “beautifully and thoughtfully designed to make video meetings approachable and immersive so everyone gets a seat at the table.”

Currently, there is no release date set for Google Meet Series One. However, pre-orders will soon be available in the US, Canada, Finland, France, Norway, Spain, Ireland, United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Netherlands, Denmark, and Belgium.

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One creepy way law enforcement might have your private data

(TECH NEWS) Wait, geofences do what? Law enforcement can pull your private data if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Man walking on crosswalk with phone, but his private data could be vulnerable.

By now, it’s pretty common knowledge that our smartphones are tracking us, but what you might not be aware of is just how much law enforcement is taking advantage of our private data. Now, the good news is that some places have gotten wise to this breach of privacy and are banning certain tactics. The bad news is: If you were ever in the vicinity of a recent crime scene, it’s quite possible your privacy has already been invaded.

How are law enforcement doing this? Well, it starts with a geofence.

At its core, a geofence is a virtual border around a real geographic location. This can serve many purposes, from creating marketing opportunities for targeted ads to tracking shipping packages. In the case of law enforcement, though, geofences are often used in something called a geofence warrant.

Traditionally, warrants identify a subject first, then retrieve their electronic records. A geofence warrant, on the other hand, identifies a time and place and pulls electronic data from that area. If you’re thinking “hey, that sounds sketchy,” you are–forgive the pun–completely warranted.

With a geofence, law enforcement can dig through your private data, not because they have proof you were involved in a crime, but because you happened to be nearby.

This practice, though relatively new, is on the rise: Google reported a 15-fold increase in geofence warrant requests between 2017 and 2018. As well as invading privacy, these warrants have led to false arrests and can be used against peaceful protesters. Not to mention, in many cases, geofence warrants can be extremely easy to acquire. One report in Minnesota found judges signed off on these cases in under 4 minutes.

Thankfully, there have been signs of people pushing back against the use of geofence warrants. In fact, there have been multiple federal court rulings that find the practice in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” including your electronic data.

If you’re still worried about your privacy, there are ways to keep your electronic data on lock. For example, turn off your location services when you’re traveling, and avoid connecting to open Wi-Fi networks. You can also work to limit location sharing with apps and websites.

These and other tips can be a great way to help you avoid not just geofence warrants, but others who want to use your electronic information for their own gain.

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Tech News

Incoming! Amazon drones will be dropping off packages soon (we hope)

(TECH NEWS) The Federal Aviation Administration has approved Amazon for drone delivery service, but when will the drones actually take flight?

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One of Prime Air's drones ready for test flights.

Amazon has finally received the stamp of approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to deliver packages by drones. This pivotal step brings the online retailer closer to their promise of delivering packages to customers in 30 minutes or less.

In 2013, during CBS’s “60 Minutes” interview, Amazon CEO and Founder, Jeff Bezos, said drones would be delivering customers’ packages within five years. Although the estimate is a couple of years off, it seems like that day might be right around the corner.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the day when little floating presents are sailing through the sky (Animal Crossing balloons, anyone?). Despite our excitement to see our latest Amazon impulse purchase land on our doorstep, it isn’t going to happen overnight.

The Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate Amazon obtained for its fleet of Prime Air drones will allow the company to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) “to carry the property of another for compensation beyond visual line of sight.” Although the FAA certification is allowing Amazon to begin test trials, Bloomberg reports that the retail giant still has “regulatory and technical hurdles” to overcome.

In addition, the FAA has yet to set regulations that will “serve as a framework to expand drone flights over crowds, a building block necessary for deliveries.” Amazon hasn’t said when and where it will start testing the delivery service either.

David Carbon, Amazon Vice President who oversees Prime Air, made this statement: “This certification is an important step forward for Prime Air and indicates the FAA’s confidence in Amazon’s operating and safety procedures for an autonomous drone delivery service that will one day deliver packages to our customers around the world.”

This approval is definitely a step forward, but Amazon has been working on the drone delivery service for years. Early last year, the giant retailer revealed they would start offering one-day shipping. They have followed through on this, at least. And during a Las Vegas Conference in June 2019, they revealed their “fully electric drones that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes.” But it still doesn’t answer when we can expect to see whizzing drones overhead.

I’m not sure when Amazon will fulfill their last promise. But it is getting closer. What I do know is that I look forward to the Amazon drones taking flight. I can’t wait to place my orders knowing that I will get that last-minute present I ordered just in time.

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