Face ID works while wearing a mask in the iOS 15.4 beta


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The iOS 15.4 developer beta has introduced a version of Face ID that unlocks the user’s iPhone while wearing a mask, though it is less secure.

A new onboarding screen in the iOS 15.4 beta prompts users to choose between two versions of Face ID. One is the standard Face ID, and the other is one that works while the user is wearing a mask.

If users choose to set up Face ID to work with a mask, Apple warns that it is less secure. This is because Face ID will only authenticate the user using facial features of the area surrounding the eyes. Regular Face ID uses the entire face and requires the eyes, nose, and mouth to be visible to work.

The new prompt reads as follows:

“Face ID is most accurate when it’s set up for full-face recognition only. To use Face ID while wearing a mask, iPhone can recognize the unique features around the eye area to authenticate.”

By reducing the number of features being scanned, the security for face unlock is inherently lesser. However, Apple hasn’t described how much less secure this method is.

For example, normal Face ID has a false positive rate of about 1 in 1 million. Touch ID has a false positive rate of about 1 in 50,000.

The new Face ID feature also takes into account users who wear glasses. The setup processes for Face ID with a mask will prompt the user to add pairs of glasses to the system for better recognition. However, it does warn that Face ID with mask unlock doesn’t work with sunglasses.

Apple previously introduced a system for Apple Watch owners that bypasses Face ID when wearing a mask. Of course, this only works if the user has an Apple Watch, limiting its potential use.

This new system is in beta and it may change by the time it is available to the public. Apple will likely provide in-depth security documentation surrounding the Face ID mask unlock in the near future.

Latest macOS, iPadOS betas finally introduce Universal Control


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After months of the feature’s absence, Apple has finally introduced its long-awaited Universal Control feature in the latest beta versions of macOS Monterey 12.3 and iPadOS 15.4.

The feature, which allows users to control multiple Mac and iPad devices with a single mouse and keyboard, was initially slated for a release by the end of 2021. By December of that year, Apple officially delayed the release until the spring of 2022.

In the first beta builds of iPadOS 15.4 and macOS 12.3, Apple has implemented settings related to the Universal Control feature. In addition, the feature is enabled by default once a user updates to the latest betas.

Universal Control creates a unified cursor that can be moved to another nearby device by pushing to the edge of a display. It requires all iPad and Mac devices to be logged into the same iCloud account, however. Users can find the Universal Control settings after updating to the new betas in the Displays section on macOS and in the AirPlay & Handoff section on iPadOS.

The Cupertino company first unveiled Universal Control at WWDC 2021, with an expected release date by the end of the year. Apple’s release date of Spring 2022 lines up with the expected debut of macOS Monterey 12.3 and iPadOS 15.4.

AppleInsider will be evaluating the feature in the coming days.

The robotic arm of the law

It’s hard to know where to start this week. Any temporary slowdown we might have experienced over the holidays has been wiped away. Once again, we find ourselves knee deep in robotics news, like the trash compactor scene in A New Hope — only without the closing walls, Death Star and weird little one-eyed monster. Honestly, the whole analogy really falls apart under the slightest scrutiny.

There’s a wild flurry of news this week, and it really runs the gamut, in terms of variety. We’re talking space, cops (but not Space Cops), mountain climbing, lawnmowing and a whole lot of factory work. Seeing as how we here in New York City once again find ourselves bearing down something called a “bomb cyclone,” let’s kick things off on the New York Stock Exchange floor.

Knightscope rang the bell this morning, as it became the latest robotics firm to IPO. You might not know the firm’s name, but you’ve more than likely seen its robots, either in person or on the news. Founded in 2013, the company’s profile grew quickly, courtesy of egg-shaped mobile robots designed to patrol public spaces — as well as partnerships with a number of police departments across the U.S.

Image Credits: Knightscope

I recently spoke with the company’s CEO, William Santana Li, a former Ford executive who uttered the phrase, “I’m going to get in trouble for saying this” a lot during the interview. We covered a range of topics, from the decision to IPO to automation accidents to questions over profiling. Several highlights:

I’ve said to the media, our underwriters, our lawyers, our teams, our clients, our investors — more incidents will occur. It’s not an unreasonable thing to say accidents happen. In a lot of cases, we have the evidence to prove that humans are not perfect and maybe have issues driving. In many cases, it’s maybe not the robot, it’s accidents happen. Will more incidents occur in the future? Absolutely. Guarantee it. The most important thing is: How do we handle it? How do we conduct ourselves? How do we take care of our clients? Do we make sure everyone is safe and, wherever possible, make whatever revisions need to happen?

and:

If you’re inferring issues with racial bias — and I might get in trouble for saying this — but to me, it’s garbage in, garbage out. You tell a kid, when they’re growing up that pistachio ice cream is really bad, when they grow up, pistachio ice cream is really bad. If you feed an algorithm all the wrong data or an incomplete set of data, that’s an engineering bad input problem. That’s not that the technology is biased. I’m hoping that over time, that gets corrected over the natural course of engineers always making things better and better.

and:

I worry there’s some conflation happening between questions of implicit biases in AI and broader concerns over automation. The former is a very real problem and something that absolutely needs to be addressed. There’s a lot of truth to the fact AI models are only as what humans put into them – which is precisely what creates biases. These are things that need to be addressed now, as we’re in the very early stages of using robots to police society.

Image Credits: Boston Dynamics

Some big news out of Boston Dynamics this week — something far more grounded than we saw from the company onstage with Hyundai. In fact, this is the sort of stuff I’d like to see highlighted more in the world of robotics: sophisticated systems getting to work doing unglamorous jobs like unloading trucks. It’s far more down-to-earth than the videos Hyundai was showing off with Spot hanging out on Mars. It’s perfectly possible for things to be pragmatic and impressive at the same time.

And for a product with no existing commercial clients, this was some big news. DHL agreed to a $15 million deal to bring Boston Dynamics’ Stretch robot to its North America logistics centers. The number of units hasn’t been disclosed yet, but they will roll out over three years, serving as a key proving ground for the firm’s commercial potential beyond Spot. Moving boxes around is a highly repetitive, intensive task that will really push the tech to its limit. There’s also often an expectation here that these systems be able to effectively run 24/7.

This will be the first major test for Boston Dynamics under the Hyundai umbrella, as well as DHL’s own automation ambitions as it looks to remain competitive with the likes of Amazon encroaching on its logistics territory.

Sorting Robot in Paack Distribution Centre Madrid

Sorting Robot in Paack Distribution Centre Madrid. Image Credits: Paack

Speaking of, staying competitive with Amazon (something that sure seems to come up a lot in this newsletter), there were a couple of big raises for robotic logistics firm. Paack announced this week a $225 million Series D led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, as it looks to expand further into Europe.

Says founder and CEO Fernando Benito, “Demand for convenient, timely, and more sustainable methods of delivery is going to explode over the next few years and Paack is providing the solution. We use technology to provide consumers with control and choice over their deliveries, and reduce the carbon footprint of our distribution.”

Meanwhile, Massachusetts-based Vecna Robotics announced a $65 million Series C that more than doubles its funding to date. Forklift injuries are a very real issue in the world of warehouses, so the firm is looking to help automate pallet lifting with its robotic systems. The round was led by Tiger Global Management, which also led the $21.5 million Electric Sheep raised for its robotic lawnmowers.

Image Credits: Electric Sheep Robotics

In spite of the indefinite delay of iRobot’s Terra, there are a number of players in this field (well, lawn), aimed at both commercial and professional applications. Electric Sheep’s (yeah, it’s a Philip K. Dick reference, got it) approach is similar to what the John Deere-owned Bear Flag Robotics is doing in the tractor space, allowing users to effectively retrofit their existing mowers, using the Dexter system.

Former TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield contestant Wandelbots continues to raise big numbers. This time out it’s an $84 million Series C. The company’s among those looking to tackle a key issue in automation: How can workplaces train robots without programming expertise? The firm’s solution comes in the form of a “Trace Pen,” which workers use to create movements the robots can then mimic. The company already has a number of high-profile clients, including BMW and VW, and will be using the funding to further expand into markets like the U.S. and Asia.

Image Credits: Starship Technologies

Is it truly an issue of Actuator without some funding for delivery robots? Starship just collected around $57 million from the EU’s European Investment Bank. As Ingrid notes, the San Francisco-based startup has already seen a fair bit of deployment in Europe.

Image Credits: Takahiro Miki/ETH Zurich

And just so it’s not all funding this week, a fun one out of ETH Zurich, which taught the quadrupedal ANYmal robot how to hike — specifically up nearby Mount Etzel. Researchers say that, using visual and tactile feedback, the robot learned to hike some 120 vertical meters in 31 minutes — four minutes faster than the standard for human hikers.

A little higher up, the Bezos-owned Blue Origin has agreed to acquire Honeybee Robotics, which creates drills and other tools for Earth and space travel. CEO Kiel Davis confirmed the acquisition on the company’s blog:

We’ve been building Honeybee’s capabilities and brand for almost forty years. Joining Blue Origin is a major step forward for us. We thank the entire EBI family for their support over the last four and a half years. With Blue Origin we look forward to further expanding our capacity to meet the most exciting challenges in next-generation space transportation, space mobility, space destinations, and planetary science and exploration.

Terms of the deal, which is set to close next month, have not been disclosed. Honeybee says it expects to operate “business as usual” under its newer, bluer, parent.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Actuator: To infinity and subscribe!

FCC approves plan to require broadband 'nutrition labels'


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The Federal Communications Commission has voted to move forward with a plan to require broadband providers to offer “nutrition labels” containing critical information for consumers as soon as 2022.

On Thursday, the FCC unanimously approved the proposal, which would create new rules requiring broadband providers to offer labels disclosing an internet plan’s pricing, data allowances, and throttling practices, as well as information on introductory prices and future price hikes.

The aim of the proposal is to increase transparency for consumers and boost competition in the marketplace.

“Access to accurate, simple-to-understand information about broadband internet access services helps consumers make informed choices and is central to a well-functioning marketplace that encourages competition, innovation, low prices, and high-quality service,” the FCC wrote in a press release.

The proposal is one part of the FCC’s plan to act on an executive order signed by President Joe Biden in July 2021. That order required the FCC to implement new regulations aimed at increasing consumer choice and bolstering broadband service quality.

The “nutrition labels” in question are based on voluntary disclosures approved by the FCC in 2016. Under the new rules, which could go into effect as soon as the latter half of 2022, broadband providers would be required to offer the information.

As part of the action on Thursday, the FCC is seeking comments on how consumers evaluate broadband plans, whether the labels will help consumers with the broadband shopping process, whether the 2016 labels should be updated, and where the labels should be displayed.

The NCTA, a trade group representing broadband providers, said it looks forward to working with the FCC on implementing the new labels. In a statement, the NCTA said that “cable operators are committed to providing consumers with relevant information about broadband services.”

Facebook reportedly ditches Diem stablecoin with asset sale

The Diem Association, a consortium of companies working on a blockchain-based payment system, is selling its technology assets to Silvergate Capital for $200 million, according to a report from the WSJ. Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, is one of the founding members of the association. Diem represented Facebook’s most ambitious bet on cryptocurrencies.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg also reported that Meta was working on selling Diem’s assets as a way to return some capital to the investors behind the project.

Originally called Libra, Facebook unveiled the crypto effort back in 2019. Since then, the Diem Association and Facebook have both scaled back their ambitions several times. At first, the Libra cryptocurrency was supposed to be a brand new currency tied to a basket of fiat currencies and securities.

From the beginning, the Libra Association faced strong opposition from regulators and central banks. Many thought that Libra would compete with sovereign currencies with profound macroeconomic effects. It could have led to shadow banking, inflation and would have been a way to escape monetary policies.

That’s why the Libra Association switched to a more realistic take on stablecoins. Instead of creating a new currency from scratch, the Libra Association decided to launch several single-currency stablecoins. For instance, one LibraUSD was supposed to be worth one USD at all times. The same would apply to LibraGBP, LibraEUR, etc.

But that plan changed once again. The Libra Association became the Diem Association, and Facebook launched a pilot version of Novi, its cryptocurrency wallet. Instead of using the association’s stablecoin (Diem) on the association’s blockchain (the Diem network), Novi uses USDP as its currency. This stablecoin is issued by Paxos with Coinbase managing crypto custody.

A couple of months ago, David Marcus, who led all things crypto for Meta, also left the company. While Diem’s cryptocurrencies have yet to launch, Silvergate Capital was supposed to issue some of the stablecoins and back them with cash in their account, according to the WSJ.

If the sale of the Diem Association’s assets goes through, Meta and its partners in the association will get some money back, while Silvergate Capital will become the only company in charge of the Diem project.

Some of the companies currently involve in the Diem Association include Anchorage, Andreessen Horowitz, Checkout.com, Coinbase, Iliad, Spotify, Uber and Union Square Ventures.

Apple issues first macOS Monterey 12.3 developer beta


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Apple has moved on to a new generation of betas of its Mac operating system, with the first developer beta of macOS Monterey 12.3 now available for testing.

The latest builds can be downloaded from the Apple Developer Center for participants in the Developer Beta program, as well as via an over-the-air update for hardware already used for beta software. Public beta versions of the developer builds are usually issued within a few days of their counterparts, and can be acquired from the Apple Beta Software Program site.

The new round arrives after Apple released macOS 12.2 on January 26.

The previous beta introduced relatively few changes to the operating system, with the most notable being a version of the Apple Music app that uses AppKit instead of webviews. As a fully-native application, it should generally be faster and more fluid than in earlier releases.

AppleInsider, and Apple itself, strongly recommend users don’t install the betas on to “mission-critical” or primary devices, as there is the remote possibility of data loss or other issues. Instead, testers should install betas onto secondary or non-essential devices, and to make sure there are sufficient backups of important data before updating.

Apple seeds first developer betas of iOS 15.4, iPadOS 15.4, tvOS 15.4, watchOS 8.5


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Apple has restarted the beta-testing process once again, providing developers with the first builds of iOS 15.4, iPadOS 15.4, tvOS 15.4, and watchOS 8.5.

The newest builds can be downloaded via the Apple Developer Center for those enrolled in the test program, or via an over-the-air update on devices running the beta software. Public betas typically arrive within a few days of the developer versions, via the Apple Beta Software Program website.

Apple released iOS 15.3, iPadOS 15.3, tvOS 15.3, and watchOS 8.4 on January 26.

The new betas include iOS 15.4, iPadOS 15.4, tvOS 15.4, HomePod software 15.4, and watchOS 8.5. It is unclear exactly what is new in the latest beta round at this early stage, but it may offer more to users than the previous version. For the most part, iOS 15.3 and iPadOS 15.3 didn’t provide any major feature changes to users, and largely took the form of a maintenance release that involved bug fixes and performance improvements.

AppleInsider, and Apple itself, strongly advise users avoid installing beta software on to “mission-critical” or primary devices, due to the small possibility of data loss or other issues. Instead, testers should install betas onto secondary or non-essential devices, and to ensure there are sufficient backups of important data before updating in the first place.

Here’s how far VCs have lowered revenue expectations for seed through Series B

New data from Kruze Consulting shows just how much the venture capital fundraising market has changed for startups in the last few quarters.

Kruze, which provides accounting, tax and venture capital-related services to private tech companies, has access to hard data regarding startup performance. Healy Jones, vice president of financial planning and analysis at Kruze and a former venture capitalist, put some of that information to work, using aggregated, anonymized data from startup funding rounds to detail how much revenue startups are reporting at various fundraising benchmarks over time.

We took a look at how rapidly revenue averages have declined for startups approaching early-stage fundraising events in the last nine months compared to the preceding few years.

The results are simple: Software startups are generally raising early-stage rounds (through Series B) with lower revenue totals in recent quarters than in prior years. Data from several hundred early-stage software (SaaS) fundraises indicates that startup growth rates are not accelerating — though there is a key exception that we’ll discuss.

I don’t want the data behind the paywall, so before we get into what’s happening and why, here’s the raw information from Jones and Kruze. Note that the percentage changes to ARR levels were recalculated by The Exchange from shared data to allow a few more decimal points:

Data via Kruze. Numbers are averages. Data from more than 200 SaaS fundraises.

What does all that mean? Let’s talk about it.

Slimmer revenues and evolving growth rates

The data indicates that seed, Series A and Series B rounds have seen a recent and rapid decline in revenue reported by the SaaS startups raising. It also shows that seed and Series A software companies raised with slower growth rates from 2019 through Q1 2021.

IFSEC Seeks Security Pros for New Survey on Physical Access Control

IFSEC Global is seeking responses from people working within security end-user roles to better understand the state of access control in 2022, with the end goal of producing an exclusive trend survey report for the industry.

Fill out the survey now, to be in with a chance of winning an Amazon voucher worth £150 (or equivalent)!

The survey should only take 6-8 minutes of your time and will cover topics including:

  • Current physical access control systems and technology in use
  • Convergence and collaboration in physical access control, security and IT operations
  • Upgrades and future planning in access control
  • Trends and emerging technology in access control

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After results are collated, IFSEC Global will put together a detailed trend report, freely available to all respondents and those involved in the security sector, where the current state of access control will be assessed and analyzed.

Keep up with the latest cybersecurity threats, newly-discovered vulnerabilities, data breach information, and emerging trends. Delivered daily or weekly right to your email inbox.

FTC: U.S. consumers lost $770 million in social media scams in 2021, up 18x from 2017

A growing number of U.S. consumers are getting scammed on social media according to a new report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which revealed that consumers lost $770 million to social media scams in 2021 — a figure that accounted for about one-fourth of all fraud losses for the year. That number has also increased 18 times from the $42 million in social media fraud reported in 2017, the FTC said, as new types of scams involving cryptocurrency and online shopping became more popular. This has also led to many younger consumers getting scammed, as now adults ages 18 to 39 reported fraud losses at a rate that’s 2.4x higher than adults 40 and over.

Scammers have clearly found that social media is one of the most profitable places to commit fraud. More than 95,000 fraud victims said they were first contacted on social media — more than double 2020’s number, and up 19x from 2017.

Image Credits: FTC

More than one in four individuals who reported losing money to fraud to the FTC last year said they first saw a post, message, or ad on social media which had prompted the scam. Excluding reports that didn’t indicate a contact method, social media scams accounted for 26% of the losses attributed to fraud in 2021 ($770 million), followed by websites and apps at 19% ($554 million), then phone calls at 18% ($546 million). The median individual losses, however, were highest with phone fraud at $1,110 compared with $468 for social media fraud.

Facebook and Instagram were where most of these social media scams took place, the data indicated.

In the case of online romance scams, more than a third of users reported the first outreach they had from the scammer was on Facebook or Instagram. Specifically, Facebook accounted for 23% and Instagram 13% of romance scams. These scams would begin with a seemingly innocent friend request, followed by sweet talk, then a request for money, the report explained.

Meanwhile, more than half (54%) of the investment scams in 2021 began with social media platforms, where scammers would promote bogus investment opportunities or connect with people directly to encourage them to invest. Instagram was popular with scammers here, accounting for 36% of investment scams, followed by Facebook at 28%, then messaging apps WhatsApp and Telegram at 9% and 7%, respectively.

A large majority of the investment scams now involve cryptocurrency, the report also found. In 2021, cryptocurrency was the method of payment in 64% of social media investment scams reported to the FTC. Payment apps and services were the payment methods used in 13% of cases, followed by bank transfers or bank payments in 9%.

Image Credits: FTC

Although romance and investment scams continued to account for the largest losses by dollar amounts, even reaching record highs, the scams with the largest number of reports to the FTC involve consumers trying to purchase something they first saw on social media. In most cases, people were trying to make a purchase of something they saw marketed on Facebook or Instagram.

In 2021, 45% of reports sent to the FTC over money lost in social media scams were related to online shopping. Nearly 70% of those involved people who placed an order, typically after seeing an ad on social media, but then never received the merchandise. Some also noted the ads would direct them to “lookalike” websites, designed to fool them into thinking they were purchasing from a real online retailer. Facebook and Instagram served as the platforms of choice for 9 out of 10 of these scams, the report noted.

The increase in online shopping scams isn’t just an issue for the consumers losing money — it’s determinantal to the overall e-commerce ecosystem and social media companies’ businesses. In recent years, Facebook and Instagram have invested heavily in making online shopping a core part of their services, promising to connect advertisers with targeted customers. The Meta-owned apps also now include their own “Shop” sections, where consumers can browse goods and check out directly — without having to exit to an external website. But if consumers become wary of the legitimacy of the online retailers featured on these platforms, they may hesitate to shop from social media in the future.

For Meta, a change in consumer shopping behavior would matter more today than in years past, as the company’s larger ad business has been impacted by Apple’s privacy changes on iOS which let consumers opt out of tracking. Anticipating the market shift that would result from this reduced ability to personalize ads, Meta has been diversifying its revenue by creating in-app shops where it can capture more first-party data based on consumer shopping inside its own platform. It’s also tapping into new revenue streams from the creator economy, like subscriptions and tipping.

The FTC said that investment, romance, and e-commerce scams, combined, accounted for 70% of social media scams in 2021, but there were other types of fraud also associated with social platforms. The report did not break these down by category, however.