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Apple, Google Release Early Version of Their Contact Tracing Tech, Say 23 Countries Show Interest

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Authorities in 23 countries across five continents have sought access to contact tracing technology from Apple and Alphabet’s Google, the companies announced on Wednesday as they released the initial version of their system.

But authorities would have to stop requiring phone numbers from users under the companies’ rules, one of several restrictions that have left governments fighting the novel coronavirus frustrated that the world’s top two smartphone software makers undercut the technology’s usefulness by prioritizing user privacy.

Apple and Google said) several US states and 22 countries have sought access to their technology, but it is unclear how many will end up publishing mobile apps that use it.

Using apps to accelerate contact tracing, in which authorities identify and test people who were recently near a virus carrier, has emerged as a tool to stem new outbreaks. It could help authorities test more potentially infected individuals than they would normally be able to based on patients recalling recent interactions from memory.

But some governments contend their app-based efforts would be more effective if they could track users’ locations to identify hot spots for virus transmission and notify them about possible exposure through calls or texts, rather than a generic push notification.

Apple and Google have barred authorities using their technology from collecting GPS location data or requiring users to enter personal data.

“We have a collision of tech, privacy and health professionals and the Venn diagram doesn’t really have a spot where they all overlap,” said Chester Wisniewski, a principal research scientist at cybersecurity company Sophos.

Australia, the United Kingdom, and other countries that have sought to develop their own technology are experiencing glitches, draining device batteries and seeing limited adoption.

Apple and Google have said their system will more reliably use Bluetooth connections between devices to log users who are in physical proximity for at least five minutes.

Developers of contact tracing apps for Austria, Germany, and Switzerland told Reuters this week they were moving forward with the Apple-Google technology and were fine not knowing users’ phone numbers.

Other governments are hedging their bets. Norway plans to compare the effectiveness of its Smittestopp app with an Apple-Google-based app, Gun Peggy Knudsen, acting deputy director of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said in an interview.

Smittestopp, which has a development budget of about $5 million (roughly Rs. 37.8 crores), accesses GPS location and requires phone numbers. But it has seen limited use because of a low number of new infections.

“If the tracing is so much better with the Apple-Google tool, then perhaps we should switch and we would consider what we need to do to do the switch,” Knudsen said.

North Dakota, which offered the first US contact tracing app, told Reuters on Wednesday it will leave its initial Care19 app as a location-tracking “diary” tool to help patients jog their memories. But it also will release a new Care19 Exposure app based on the Apple-Google technology.

The Australian government said it was in talks with Apple and Google about enhancing its COVIDSafe app, which currently requires phone numbers, postcodes, and age ranges.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Apple Starts Allowing Customers in India to Configure MacBook, Mac Computers Based on Their Requirements

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Apple has started allowing customers in India to configure iMac, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and other Mac computers based on their requirements. The new service, which is currently live through certain Apple Authorised Resellers in the country, already existed in markets including Canada and the US for quite some time. It lets customers pick their own RAM, storage, or graphics preference while ordering a new Mac machine. Apple customers in India have long demanded the custom configurations for MacBook and Mac desktops. However, the Cupertino giant had a major focus towards generating iPhone sales in the country, and didn’t address the demand up until now.

To offer custom configurations, Apple has started configure-to-order (CTO) or build-to-order (BTO) option in India for its Mac devices, as first reported by TechCrunch. The configuration options are listed on the Apple India site.

Gadgets 360 was able to verify that the new change has started rolling out for Mac customers in India. However, it is not yet available through all Apple Authorised Distributors in the country. Sources in distribution tell Gadgets 360 that Apple expects to complete the rollout of this service before the start of June. Apple declined to comment on the matter.

Customers ordering customised MacBook and Mac desktops will need to wait for over a month to get their orders delivered, mainly depending on the availability of the components. Also, it is important to note that the configuration options are currently available only through offline stores and not e-commerce sites including Amazon, Flipkart, and Paytm Mall.

Prior to the latest update, Apple was offering its MacBook, iMac, and other Mac computers in select pre-configured options. Customers weren’t allowed to order any customisations on the part of memory, storage, and graphics. This was unlike how Apple provides custom configurations in markets such as Canada and the US.

Customisation isn’t cheap
While people have been asking for this option for a while now, customisation doesn’t come cheaply. The company, for example, charges $200 (roughly Rs. 15,100) to offer a 16GB RAM upgrade for the MacBook Air 2020 model in the US. That being said, the latest move by Apple shows that the company has started taking its Mac customers in India seriously to some extent.

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US Activists Allege TikTok Violated The Agreement On Child Protection

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WASHINGTON, United States (AFP)— A coalition of consumer groups filed a complaint Thursday with US regulators claiming the popular video app TikTok has failed to live up to an agreement last year limiting data collection from children.

The 20 organisations said in a Federal Trade Commission complaint that TikTok continues to collect data on children under 13 without parental consent despite a February 2019 US court settlement.

The complaint called for the FTC to reopen its investigation, saying the matter is urgent now as more children flock to social media apps during the coronavirus lockdowns.

According to the complaint, TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, makes it easy for under-13 users to avoid obtaining parental consent and makes no attempt to notify parents.

As a result, TikTok is able to collect detailed information about how these children use the app and applies artificial intelligence to determine what to show next, to keep them engaged online as long as possible.

“Even after being caught red-handed by the FTC, TikTok continues to flout the law,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, one of the groups in the complaint.

“We urge the Commission to take swift action and sanction TikTok again — this time with a fine and injunctive relief commensurate with the seriousness of TikTok’s serial violations.”

TikTok last year paid a US$5.7 million penalty under a court settlement and agreed to implement policy changes including deleting any information collected from children under 13.

But the complaint said that TikTok destroyed “only the personal information of users who identified as under 13 at the time of the decree or at the time their personal information was collected,” which allowed it to keep some of this data.

“We easily found that many accounts featuring children were still present on TikTok,” said Michael Rosenbloom of the Georgetown University Institute for Public Representation, which represents the groups.

“Many of these accounts have tens of thousands to millions of followers, and have been around since before the order.”

Asked about the latest complaint, TikTok said it had implemented detailed policies on accounts for young children.

“We take privacy seriously and are committed to helping ensure that TikTok continues to be a safe and entertaining community for our users,” it said in a statement.

The tracking firm Sensor Tower reported last month that TikTok had topped two billion downloads amid strong growth during the virus pandemic.

Research firm eMarketer estimated that TikTok had more than 52 million US users in March.

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Virat Kohli Becomes the First Indian Celebrity to Reach 50 Million Followers on Instagram

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Virat Kohli, the captain of the Indian cricket team, has set a new record. But this one isn’t on a cricket ground, this time, it is on his social media account Instagram. Indian cricket captain and skipper Virat Kohli is the first Indian to garner 50 million followers on Instagram. K As for being active on Instagram, Virat Kohli has around 930 posts on Instagram and he currently follows 148 other people. Virat Kohli has exactly 50 million followers while Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas is close with 49.9 million followers on Instagram.

In terms of rankings, Instagram’s official account has the most number of followers (333 million) and it is followed by Portuguese star footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 200 million followers.

Last year, Virat Kohli was reportedly charging $196,000 (roughly Rs. 1.35 crores) for each sponsored post on Instagram. According to scheduling tool Hopper HQ’s Instagram Rich List, sports stars earn the most for sponsored posts on Instagram. Kohli was on the 23rd spot on a list of popular celebrities on Instagram. The list also revealed approximate fees each celebrity charges for a sponsored story on the Facebook-owned social platform.

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