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Democrats want to restrict political ad targeting ahead of the 2020 election

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On Tuesday, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) introduced a bill that would upend political advertising on platforms like Facebook and Google.

The Banning Microtargeted Political Ads Act would bar platforms like Google and Facebook from allowing advertisers to target messages based on the demographic or behavioral data of their users. The Federal Elections Commission would act as the primary enforcer of these proposed rules, but the bill leaves room for individuals to bring civil action on companies accused of violating it. A court could award anywhere from $100 to $1,000 in relief for negligent violations and $500 to $5,000 for reckless ones.

“Microtargeting political ads fractures our open democratic debate into millions of private, unchecked silos, allowing for the spread of false promises, polarizing lies, disinformation, fake news, and voter suppression,” Eshoo said.

Since the 2016 election, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have introduced proposals aimed at regulating political ads online. In 2017, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mark Warner (D-VA), and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced the Honest Ads Act, which would require heightened targeting and spending transparency.

Congress has yet to vote on these measures, but that hasn’t stymied further attempts at regulating the space. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) announced last week his plan to introduce a bill that would only allow advertisers and platforms to target ads using age, gender, and location data. His proposal is less stringent than Eshoo’s, which only allows for targeting based on home addresses. The measure was introduced on Tuesday, according to Politico.

“Microtargeting is a threat to our democracy. Campaigns and foreign actors can use this technology to manipulate voters with high volumes of misleading information that is virtually impossible to keep track of,” Cicilline said last week.

According to Ad Age, 2020 US presidential campaigns have already spent more than $1.3 billion in advertising across TV, radio, and digital platforms. Some platforms like Facebook and Google created their own political ads databases as calls for regulation began to grow. Twitter dropped all political advertising last November.

Following Twitter’s decision to ban political ads last year, FEC Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post that platforms should “sell political ads, but stop the practice of microtargeting those ads.” In a statement Tuesday, Weintraub praised Eshoo’s bill.

“The microtargeting of online political ads threatens the united character of our United States,” Weintraub said. “Microtargeted ads are more likely to fuel divisiveness than those that face scrutiny – and counterargument – from a broader public.”

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Huawei overtakes Samsung as world’s biggest smartphone vendor, says report

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For the first time ever, Huawei has shipped more smartphones worldwide over a quarter than any other company, according to a new report from analyst firm Canalys. Huawei has long harbored ambitions to overtake Samsung as the world’s biggest smartphone seller, and going by the numbers from Canalys, that’s just what happened during the April-June period this year.

That doesn’t mean Huawei will hold onto the top spot for long, as the results were clearly influenced by the ongoing pandemic. Canalys’ figure of 55.8 million Huawei smartphones shipped is actually down 5 percent year-on-year, while Samsung slid 30 percent to 53.7 million. More than 70 percent of Huawei’s devices are now sold in China, which hasn’t been hit as hard by COVID-19 as many of Samsung’s major markets. Samsung, meanwhile, is a tiny player in China.

“Our business has demonstrated exceptional resilience in these difficult times,” Huawei said in a statement to The Verge. “Amidst a period of unprecedented global economic slowdown and challenges, we’ve continued to grow and further our leadership position by providing innovative products and experience to consumers.”

“This is a remarkable result that few people would have predicted a year ago,” says Canalys senior analyst Ben Stanton. “If it wasn’t for COVID-19, it wouldn’t have happened. Huawei has taken full advantage of the Chinese economic recovery to reignite its smartphone business.”

Despite impressive hardware, Huawei phones are now a hard sell to most consumers outside China because they are blocked from using Google services. It’s difficult to see the company staying at the number 1 spot once global smartphone demand recovers; Samsung just said it expects better sales next quarter due to new flagship phone launches. But Huawei’s continued strength in China shows that external pressures aren’t yet posing an existential threat to its consumer businesses — at least not at home.

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Google confirms new Nest smart speaker with official photo and video

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Google has responded to the inadvertent reveal of a new Nest smart speaker through regulatory filings by, well, confirming its existence. The company just sent The Verge an official photo of the device, referring to it only as “what the Nest team is working on from home.”

The speaker looks somewhere between the pillowy Nest Mini and the larger Google Home Max, with a similar ability to stand vertically. The picture shows it wrapped in a blue fabric, while the photos from the filing depicted a more neutral grey design.

Google also shared a brief teaser video that shows the speaker being used in the background, including a pink-ish color variant.

Google’s hardware products are notorious for leaking early, so as with the Pixel 4, it’s helpful to see the company get ahead of that reality. No word on when this new Nest speaker will be revealed in full or released, though.

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Google discontinues the Pixel 3A and 3A XL

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Google has discontinued its mid-range Pixel 3A and 3A XL smartphones, the company announced today (via Android Police). “Google Store has sold through its inventory and completed sales of Pixel 3A,” Google said in a statement to The Verge. “For people who are still interested in buying Pixel 3A, the product is available from some partners while supplies last.”

That might be disappointing to hear for people who were on the market for a more affordable Google-made phone. In his review last year, my colleague Dieter Bohn found the 3A had an excellent camera, especially for its low price.

The 3A is, in fact, listed as out of stock on the Google Store. However, as of this writing, there’s stock available on Amazon of both the 3A and 3A XL, if you still want to pick one up.

With the discontinuation of the Pixel 3A, the only phone Google sells on its own store is its flagship Pixel 4, which was released last October. But a mid-range successor to the Pixel 4, supposedly called the Pixel 4A, could be coming soon, and we may already know a lot about it after months of rumors and leaks.

The rumored Pixel 4A apparently has a 5.81-inch display with a 2340 x 1080 resolution, a Snapdragon 730 processor, a 12.2-megapixel rear camera, an 8-megapixel front-facing camera, a fingerprint reader on the back of the phone, and a headphone jack. And we possible know what it looks like thanks to a hands-on posted on YouTube in March and photos of what appear to be a retail Pixel 4A box that hit the web in April.

But the Pixel 4A isn’t actually for sale yet. So for now, if you want the latest mid-range Google phone, you’ll have to snag one of the last Pixel 3As, if you can find one.

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