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Lyft is spending millions to stop Massachusetts drivers from becoming employees

Lyft has already splashed out $14.4 million towards a likely November ballot measure in Massachusetts which would cement its drivers as contractors, rather than employees — and the vast majority of those funds were paid in a single, $13 million donation, the largest in the state's history by a considerable margin. It's an unambiguous opening salvo in what will likely be a bitter and protracted battle, the playbook for which Lyft and its gig work peers successfully tested in California two years ago. 

As the Boston Globereports, Lyft has thus far contributed the lion's share of the Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers committee's $17.2 million war chest, which is intended to fund the forthcoming ballot measure. The rest comes from Uber, DoorDash and Instacart owner Maplebear. The previous record for largest single donation was nearly a third the size: a $5.1 million contribution from General Motors in 2020. 

Currently Lyft and Uber are engaged in a lawsuit, filed by the Attorney General of Massachusetts, which contends that the companies have been misclassifying their driver workforce as contractors. Leveraging contractor status relieves them of many of the costs and obligations associated with employees — such as minimum wage, healthcare and overtime pay — but true contractors typically control how and when they work, and what they charge for their services. Whether or not ridershare drivers actually have that level of autonomy has become a point of legal contention in several of the states and countries in which these companies operate.

California thus far has prosecuted its defense of gig-workers-as-employees most vociferously, first through a state Supreme Court ruling in 2018, then through AB5, a successfully-passed bill that (however briefly) enshrined these kinds of drivers as employees. It went into effect on January 1, 2020 and was overturned by ballot measure Proposition 22 that November. Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates dumped a historic $224 million into the proposition — outspending their opposition, which largely consisted of labor unions, by more than 10-to-1 — the most expensive ballot measure in California history. 

Although Prop 22 was eventually ruled unconstitutional, the strategy has thus far been successful for gig work companies. Legislative changes have been tied up in court, and nowhere in the United States are Lyft or Uber drivers currently entitled to the entire slate of benefits enjoyed by full-time employees.

In making their case for Prop 22, gig companies essentially employed two lines of attack. The first, against its own workers, was a facile attempt to tie the concept of "flexibility" to contractor status, an utterly false dichotomy perpetuated by the companies themselves. The second was to convince voters in California that the costs associated with a fleet of employee drivers would either force them to scale back service or raise prices. 

After Prop 22 passed, every single company that backed it raised prices anyway. Uber's CEO also recently contended on a call with investors that, in the face of potential employee-status regulations in the European Union, Uber can, in fact, afford to "make any model work" financially. We've reached out to Lyft to ask if it's in a similar position.

Given this much publicized bait-and-switch, it seems unlikely the Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers committee will be able to successfully argue the same case regarding cost to consumers. Still, the $17.2 million already amassed has paid for, as the Globe reports, a slew of big-name political consultancies who were behind what is currently the most expensive (and likely to soon the be the second-most expensive) ballot measure in Massachusetts history, which sought to stymie a right to repair law.

Are you a gig work driver or courier working in Massachusetts? Download Signal messenger for iOS or Android and text me confidentially at 646 983 9846 and let's keep in touch.

 

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Reddit 'revamped' its block feature so blocking actually works


Reddit is “revamping” its block feature so that blocking on Reddit functions more like other social platforms. With the change, blocking a user on Reddit will not just block that person’s posts from your view, but will also prevent them from being able to see or interact with your posts.

That may sound obvious, but up until now, blocking on Reddit has been more like a “mute” feature in that it only worked one way. That made the feature particularly ineffectual for people dealing with harassment or other forms of abuse as blocking didn’t do anything to prevent the person from interacting with your posts.

Reddit's 'revamped' block feature.
Reddit

Now, when someone who has been blocked encounters that user’s posts or comments, the content will appear as if it was deleted. Profiles will also be inaccessible after a user has been blocked. (one exception is moderators, who will be able to view posts from users who blocked them if they appear in the subreddit they moderate.)

On the other side, Reddit is changing up how blocked users’ content appears for people who initiated the block in order to better protect against harassment. Now, those who have blocked someone else will still be able to view their posts, though the content will appear collapsed by default. Reddit says it’s keeping these posts accessible so that users can still utilize the site’s reporting features and track any potential harassment.

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Microsoft consolidating the video game industry is bad for everyone


It was cute at first. When Xbox head Phil Spencer took the stage at E3 2018 and announced the acquisition of five notable studios – Undead Labs, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, Compulsion Games and The Initiative – the air inside the Microsoft Theater turned electric. It felt like the company was righting a wrong in its business plan and finally building an internal roster of exciting games that it could offer exclusively on Xbox platforms. You know, a few friends to keep Master Chief company.

Today’s announcement that Microsoft is buying Activision Blizzard, the largest third-party publisher in the video game industry, doesn’t feel as harmless. Four years on and numerous acquisitions later, the Activision Blizzard deal feels like an extreme escalation of Microsoft’s plans, and it could mark a turning point in the video game industry as a whole, with negative consequences for both players and developers.

So far, public reaction to the acquisition has been mixed, which makes sense for a few reasons: first, Activision Blizzard's sheer size is daunting, and this purchase represents more money and industry power than Microsoft's previous gaming acquisitions combined. Second, Activision Blizzard is currently the subject of multiple investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the studio, where CEO Bobby Kotick has been in charge and largely unchecked for the past 30 years. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Kotick is poised to leave the company in a golden parachute once the Microsoft deal goes through.

This is the first time Microsoft has received a confused response to acquisition news, rather than outright praise, and that's because this isn't a standard transaction. It's the clearest sign yet that we're in the video game industry's era of consolidation.

Back in 2017, Microsoft was badly losing the first-party IP fight to Sony and Nintendo. By the end of that year, Xbox had shut down two of its internal studios, Lionhead and Press Play, it had killed a few hotly anticipated projects, and even with the Xbox Series X right around the corner, there wasn’t much to look forward to in the company’s software reserves. The acquisition announcement at E3 2018 was a sigh of relief for anxious Xbox fans.

By February 2019, Microsoft had 13 studios and publishing organizations under the banner of Xbox Game Studios.

Xbox acquires Bethesda
Microsoft

And then in September 2020, Microsoft revealed it was buying ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda, id Software, Arkane Studios and Tango Gameworks. The gaming world generally rejoiced, but a few folks also started glancing around, suspicious. These studios were a big deal – the stewards of Fallout, Doom, Dishonored, Wolfenstein, Deathloop, Starfield and Elder Scrolls – and they were being added to Microsoft’s substantial pile of medium-sized companies, more names in a growing list. That alone was cause for pause.

For most fans, the main question was, what did the acquisition mean for games like The Elder Scrolls VI, which was part of a series that historically hit PlayStation and Xbox platforms alike? Basically, would Elder Scrolls VI come to PS4 and PS5?

Turns out, probably not.

One year after Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda, Spencer told GQ that he believed the Xbox ecosystem was the best place for all of the franchises in the studio’s repertoire, including The Elder Scrolls VI. He all but confirmed it would be exclusive to Xbox.

“It’s not about punishing any other platform, like I fundamentally believe all of the platforms can continue to grow,” Spencer told GQ. “But in order to be on Xbox, I want us to be able to bring the full complete package of what we have. And that would be true when I think about Elder Scrolls VI. That would be true when I think about any of our franchises.”

Starfield, Bethesda’s sci-fi RPG built for the ninth console generation, will definitely be exclusive to Xbox Series X/S and PC, skipping PS5 entirely. Spencer’s comments make it clear that Xbox is eyeing exclusivity for its franchises, and after today’s $69 billion deal goes through, that’s going to include Activision Blizzard games.

Xbox acquires Activision
Microsoft

Activision Blizzard is the largest third-party publisher in gaming, and it’s the owner of massive franchises including Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone and Candy Crush. As a third-party studio, Activision Blizzard has been able to negotiate with the main platform holders to get its software on the consoles and devices it wants. This doesn’t always equate to same-day launches or in-game item equity, but generally speaking, this position has helped ensure Activision Blizzard games reach as many players on as many platforms as possible. Exclusivity agreements and distribution deals are the main source of competition in the industry at this point, allowing outside developers to advocate for their games without feeling beholden to any console owner in particular.

When a platform holder becomes the largest publisher in gaming, it flips the script completely. It jams the script into a shredder, burns the scraps to ash, condenses the ash into stone, and then throws that to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Let’s take Call of Duty, a series with predictable annual installments, for example. Over the years, Activision has shifted allegiances between Microsoft and Sony, offering early access and exclusive game modes to Xbox platforms, then PlayStation, and mixing it up along the way. Among all the backroom talks, bad blood and better offers, it’s always been up to Activision to cut the best deal for Call of Duty, console holders be damned.

After the acquisition, that negotiation looks entirely different, if it even exists at all. As the owner of Call of Duty, Microsoft can tell Sony to screw off, keeping one of the industry’s biggest franchises exclusive to Xbox platforms.

This likely won’t happen right away, but it’s certainly a possibility down the line. In his blog post about the acquisition, Xbox’s Spencer didn’t address Sony or Nintendo platforms specifically, but he alluded to the possibility of cross-platform support for Activision Blizzard’s franchises. 

“Activision Blizzard games are enjoyed on a variety of platforms and we plan to continue to support those communities moving forward,” he said, without detailing what he meant by “platforms” or “support.” Keep in mind, this was the messaging around Elder Scrolls VI at first, too.

Microsoft isn’t the only company in the midst of a studio-hoarding spree: Sony picked up its 13th internal studio, Housemarque, in June 2021, while Tencent is chugging along with ownership of Riot Games, financial stakes in a handful of massive studios, and the purchase of LittleBigPlanet 3 developer Sumo Group in July 2021. Even Valve has scooped up a handful of independent creators in recent years, including the team behind Firewatch and some members of Kerbal Space Program.

The crowd and stage for Microsoft Xbox at their press event ahead of the E3 gaming convention in Los Angeles on June 9, 2019. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)
MARK RALSTON via Getty Images

Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard simply feels like the final push into a new era for the video game industry: consolidation.

While exclusivity deals may be the short-term concern, this trend has a longer and more tragic tail. It’s highly likely that there will be more acquisitions by Microsoft, Sony and other major names in gaming, and these deals and subsequent companies will only get bigger with time. With just a few massive studios controlling a huge chunk of the software pipeline, it could instill a sense of homogeneity among new titles, killing innovation as each developer attempts to conform to the corporate environment around them, actively or subconsciously.

Even with “creative freedom” built into their contracts, the acquired studios will all use the same QA process, funding arrangement, marketing plan, management structure and editing cycle; they’ll have the same bosses and face the same oversight. And when all new products are the result of a singular perspective, they’re bound to feel familiar. Stale, even. Boring.

Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard is an escalation of the exclusivity scheme, and it represents a new way of doing business. Now and for years to come, consolidation is the name of the game.

Maybe one day we’ll get Consolidation 2: Blow It All Up And Make Everything Indie Again, but that one might have trouble finding a publisher.

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Apple and Google oppose Senate antitrust efforts, claiming they'd hurt consumer security


With the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled to discuss the American Innovation and Choice Online Act and the Open App Markets Act this week, Apple and Google are stepping up their opposition to both bills. According to CNBC, Apple recently told lawmakers the legislation would make iPhone users less safe.

“The bills put consumers in harm’s way because of the real risk of privacy and security breaches,” Apple said in a letter seen by CNBC. The company specifically targets app sideloading as a potential threat. One of the provisions of the Open App Markets Act would force platform holders to allow consumers to sideload software and install third-party app stores. “But, if Apple is forced to enable sideloading, millions of Americans will likely suffer malware attacks on their phones that would otherwise have been stopped,” the company states in the letter.

On Tuesday, Google, in a post attributed to Kent Walker, the company’s president of global affairs and chief legal officer, advanced a similar argument. “Google is able to protect billions of people around the world from cyberattacks because we bake security and privacy protections into our services,” he said.

Walker warns the bills could hurt the company’s ability to integrate automated security features in its services. He also claims the bills could hurt the company’s ability and that of its US counterparts to compete with foreign firms by forcing them to obtain approval from “government bureaucrats” whenever they plan to release new features or address existing issues.

Apple and Google may not like the proposed bills, but they have support from others in the tech ecosystem. Specifically, the Coalition for App Fairness, an organization Epic and Spotify co-founded to pressure the two companies to change their app store policies, has come out in support of the legislation. “Moving this important legislation forward sends a clear and unambiguous message that monopoly control of the app ecosystem is no longer acceptable,” the group said on Monday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss both bills on Thursday, at which point they could advance to the floor of the Senate. At that point, the Senate would need to make time to vote on the legislation. That’s something that could take time with all the other issues it needs to consider in the coming weeks.

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Work-life balance is a surgical implant away in Apple TV+ series 'Severance'


Apple's latest TV+ sci-fi series is decidedly stranger than usual — but also one of its most star-studded. The tech firm has released the first trailer for Severance, a Black Mirror-like thriller depicting the horrors of trying too hard to achieve an ideal work-life balance. The show stars Parks and Recreation's Adam Scott as Mark, an office worker who volunteers for surgery that completely splits his personal and workplace memories. As you might guess, the procedure isn't as innocuous as it sounds — Mark finds himself questioning both his work and his identity.

Ben Stiller is an executive producer alongside show creator Dan Erickson. Scott isn't the only major star, either. Patricia Arquette (also a producer), John Turturro and Christopher Walken are also part of the cast.

Severance debuts February 18th. There's no guarantee it will be a hit, but it comes right as Apple is racking up awards nominations for multiple shows and movies. Apple TV+ appears to be finding its footing in the streaming world, and it's now a question of whether the service can keep that momentum going with high-profile efforts like this.

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Marvel's 'Moon Knight' series premieres March 30th on Disney+


Disney+ is finally close to releasing Moon Knight. The Marvel series is now set to debut March 30th, and the trailer shows just how the streaming service will handle the mercenary turned superhero. Oscar Isaac stars as Steven Grant, a gift shop worker who has trouble distinguishing not just between dreams and waking life, but between identities — he learns he shares a body with the mercenary Marc Spector. The two identities have to reconcile while grappling with a threat among Egyptian gods, eventually coalescing into the show's namesake knight.

The series also stars Ethan Hawke and Ramy's May Calamawy. Mohamed Diab and the duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead directed the season. The Umbrella Academy's Jeremy Slater is the lead writer, with Marvel Cinematic Universe guru Kevin Feige serving as one of several executive producers.

Moon Knight is one of several MCU "Phase Four" shows announced in 2019, including now-available projects like WandaVision and Hawkeye as well as yet-to-air productions like Ms. Marvel and She Hulk. In some ways, it represents the next wave of Disney+ content. Disney is confident enough to bank less on connections to popular Marvel movies and more on new stories, even if it's still leaning on stars like Isaac (himself no stranger to Disney) to attract viewers.

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AT&T and Verizon delay 5G rollout at some airports after airlines warn of disruptions


AT&T and Verizon say they will voluntarily delay the deployment of their new C-Band 5G services near some US airports after several carriers, including Delta, United and Southwest Airlines, wrote to the federal government to warn of potential flight delays due to the rollout. An AT&T spokesperson told CNBC the carrier was “frustrated” by the Federal Aviation Administration’s inability to safely deploy the networking standard without disrupting aviation services, a feat the company said 40 other countries have done without issue.

Verizon shared AT&T’s sentiment. “We have voluntarily decided to limit our 5G network around airports,” the company said. “The Federal Aviation Administration and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries.”

In a letter obtained by Reuters, airlines warned interference from 5G cell towers could affect the safety equipment on their planes. Devices like airplane altimeters, which pilots use to land when visibility is low, operate on C-Band adjacent frequencies. Airlines asked that AT&T and Verizon not offer 5G service within two miles of some of the country’s busiest airports. “Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies,” they said.

Before airlines sent out the letter to government officials, AT&T and Verizon had agreed to establish buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce the risk of flight disruption. They also agreed to a month-long delay in December, and then a further two-week delay in January, to give the FAA more time to address any interference concerns.

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Snapchat is limiting friend recommendations for teen accounts


Snapchat is changing up its friend recommendation feature following calls for increased safety on the app. The company is making it harder for adult strangers to find teens in its app by limiting friend recommendations in its “Quick Add” feature. 

Now, the app won’t show the accounts of 13 to 17-year-olds in Quick Add unless they have “a certain number of accounts in common,” according to Snap. While the change won’t prevent adults and teens from connecting at all, it could make it more difficult for strangers to find teens they don’t already know. In a blog post, the company said the change was part of its work to "combat the fentanyl epidemic" and keep drug dealers from finding "new ways to abuse Snapchat."

The company has faced scrutiny over its handling of drug dealers on its platform in recent months. Lawmakers and safety advocates have pushed Snap to do more to keep dealers off of Snapchat following reports of overdoses linked to drugs bought through the app. Snap also said Tuesday that it has improved its ability to proactively detect “drug-related content” on its platform, with 88 percent of “drug related content” now being “proactively detected” with AI. The company also notes it has staffed up the team that works directly with law enforcement agencies and has “significantly improved” its response time to law enforcement requests.

At a Senate hearing last fall, Snap’s VP of Global Public Policy Jennifer Stout said the company was working on new parental control features that would make it easier for parents to monitor their children’s activity in the app. Those updates still have yet to launch, though the company hopes to make them available “in the coming months.”

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A health-monitoring app for Olympic attendees reportedly has glaring security issues


Just over two weeks before the 2022 Winter Olympics are set to get underway in Beijing, researchers have issued a report claiming that an app many attendees are using has major security issues. The Citizen Lab, a research facility based at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said a "simple but devastating flaw" made it easy to bypass encryption systems that are supposed to protect voice audio and file transfers.

"The worst case scenario is that someone is intercepting all the traffic and recording all the passport details, all the medical details," research associate Jeffrey Knockel told CTV.

The app is used for health monitoring as part of COVID-19 countermeasures. Other features include messaging, news about the Games and information about logistics. The International Olympic Committee says the local Beijing 2022 workforce is using the app for things like time-keeping and task management too.

"The IOC has conducted independent third-party assessments on the application from two cyber-security testing organizations," the IOC told Engadget in a statement. "These reports confirmed that there are no critical vulnerabilities." The IOC noted that instead of using the mobile app, attendees can access a web-based health monitoring system. It said it has requested the researchers' report "to understand their concerns better."

The Citizen Lab notes that health customs forms containing passport information and travel and medical history are also at risk. In addition, the researchers said it was possible to spoof server responses, which could let hackers provide fake instructions to users.

Along with determining that the app doesn't encrypt some data transmissions, the team found that the app fails to validate some SSL certificates. In such cases, the app can't "validate to whom it is sending sensitive, encrypted data." Although they were only able to create an account on the iOS app, the researchers believe the vulnerabilities exist on the Android version of MY2022 as well.

The Citizen Lab said it informed the organizing committee for the Games about the issues on December 3rd, and said it had 15 days to respond and 45 days to fix the issues before it published its findings. As of Tuesday, the researchers hadn't received a reply.

An updated iOS version of the app that was released on Sunday didn't solve the problems. According to the researchers, the developers added a feature called “Green Health Code” that asks for more travel and medical history details, which are also vulnerable to the SSL certification issue.

According to the researchers, the flaws could mean that the app contravenes Apple's App Store rules and Google’s Unwanted Software Policy. In addition, MY2022 may be violating China's privacy standards and laws.

In addition, The Citizen Lab noted that the app includes an option to report “politically sensitive” content. It has a list of 2,442 censorship keywords too, which is said to be inactive at the minute, but includes terms related to topics like Xinjiang, Tibet, Chinese government agencies and other socially sensitive matters.

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YouTube (mostly) abandons its original content ambitions


YouTube is further backing away from original productions. Business chief Robert Kyncl has revealed that YouTube is shrinking its Originals program. From now on, the unit will only finance projects that are part of its Black Voices and YouTube Kids Funds. The company will respect commitments for shows in progress, but you shouldn't expect other new productions.

The company is making the shift due to a combination of strategy and a key departure. YouTube believed it could have a "greater impact" on creators by funding Shorts, the Black Voices Fund and Live Shopping. At the same time, Originals global lead Susanne Daniels is leaving YouTube on March 1st. Now may have been a prime opportunity to rethink the program, in other words.

The change isn't a shock. YouTube initially had ambitions of competing with paid streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix with shows like Cobra Kai. While it had some success, it didn't pose a significant threat and eventually made Originals free. The new strategy lets YouTube fund more creators while giving it a better chance of competing with TikTok, Instagram and other short-form video rivals.

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HP's new Fortis laptops for students are a bit more kid-proof


Giving a computer to a kid is basically putting it through a torture test. So HP is launching its new line of rugged Fortis laptops made to stand up to the abuse of students.

Comprised of a range of laptops and 2-in-1s that start as low as $349, every Fortis notebook comes with an extra level of durability compared to typical notebooks including spill-resistance (up to 11.8 ounces of liquid), reinforced ports and rubber trim to protect against drops and bumps. HP even added a textured surface to make the laptops easier to grip to prevent drops from happening in the first place, while a new metal shield helps protect the laptop’s battery in case the device does take a fall.

To guard against kids who are constantly fidgeting, HP installed a new full-skirted anchored keyboard with keys that are harder to remove. And because schools are a breeding ground for bacteria, HP designed its Fortis laptops to be wiped down using standard household cleaning products.

HP's 14-inch Fortis Chromebook.
HP

As for the devices themselves, the HP Fortis 14-inch G10 Chromebook is the cheapest of the bunch starting at just $349 (available now). It comes with either a 1366 x 768 or full HD 1920 x 1080 display (touch is optional), a range of Intel Celeron and Pentium processors, up to 8GB of RAM and 128GB of eMMC storage, Wi-Fi 6, and one of Google’s Titan C security chips built-in. Connectivity includes one USB-C port for charging and data, two USB-A ports, one HDMI, a combo headphone/microphone jack, and a microSD card reader.

If you want a slightly smaller Chromebook for education there’s also the HP Fortis 11-inch G9 Q Chromebook, though it won’t be out until June. Instead of a chip from Intel, it features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c along with a slightly slower Wi-Fi 5 modem, 4GB/8GB of RAM and 32GB/64GB of eMMC storage. And regardless of which one you choose, both the Fortis 14 G10 and Fortis 11 G9 Q can be configured with an optional 4G LTE connection.

HP ProBook Fortis 14” G9 Windows 11 laptop.
HP

Meanwhile, when it comes to Windows-based systems, there’s the clamshell HP ProBook Fortis 14-inch G9 and HP Probook Fortis 14-inch G10, which feature nearly identical specs aside from their processors. The ProBook Fortis 14 G9 comes with a selection of Intel Celeron and Pentium chips running on Windows 11 SE, while the ProBook Fortis 14 G10 features newer Intel 12th-gen Core i3 and Core i5 CPUs running on standard Windows 11. Both systems support up to 8GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard eMMC storage in addition to either a 128GB or 256B M.2 SSD.

The HP ProBook Fortis 14 G9 is available now starting at $369, while the ProBook Fortis 14 G10 won’t ship until later in April (price still TBA).

HP Pro x360 Fortis 11” G9 Windows 11 2-in-1.
HP

And if that’s not enough, HP created some rugged 2-in-1s for education in the HP Pro x360 Fortis 11-inch G9 and the HP Pro x360 Fortis 11-inch G10. Similar to their clamshell siblings, the Pro x360 Fortis 11 G9 is powered by a range of Intel Celeron and Pentium processors and comes with Windows 11 SE pre-installed, while the Pro x360 Fortis 11 G10 gets more powerful 12th-gen Core i3 and i5 chips and full Windows 11. Notably, both of HP’s Fortis 2-in-1s come with stylus support (though HP’s rechargeable pen is an optional extra) and support for an optional rear-facing 5-MP camera.

The Pro x360 11 G9 is available now starting at $399, with the Pro x360 Fortis 11 G10 expected to arrive sometime in April (price still TBA).

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Amazon series starring actors on the autism spectrum debuts this week


A show that stars three actors who all identify as being on the autism spectrum will debut on Amazon Prime Video this week. Rick Glassman, Albert Rutecki and Sue Ann Pien play three 20-something roommates who are also on the spectrum in As We See It.

Creator Jason Katims is best known for his work on Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, which featured a character with Asperger’s syndrome. He said all of As We See It's “neurodiverse roles were cast with neurodiverse actors” and “two neurotypical roles were cast with neurodiverse actors," according to Disability Scoop. Some writers, editors and other crew members are neurodiverse too.

Katims said his son has autism, and their experience inspired As We See It. "I think the show affords us a window into the hearts and souls of three-dimensional, loving, beautiful, complicated human beings who happen to be on the autistic spectrum, played by actors who identify as being autistic," Katims said. "It shouldn’t be revolutionary. But it sort of is."

Several other shows from recent years have featured characters with autism, including Netflix's Atypical, The Good Doctor, Prime Video series The A Word and even Sesame Street. However, it's rarer for a series to feature characters with autism played by performers who themselves are on the spectrum. As such, As We See It could bolster authentic on-screen representations of autism.

All eight episodes of As We See It's first season will hit Prime Video on Friday.

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Israeli police reportedly used Pegasus spyware to conduct domestic surveillance


Israeli police have employed NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to extract data from phones belonging to Israeli citizens, according to an investigation by the country’s Calcalist business publication. Police reportedly used the controversial software to target a number of individuals, including politicians and members of an activist group that had called for the removal of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the report, Israeli police conducted their surveillance without court supervision, a claim both police and public officials deny.

“All police activity in this field is done in accordance with the law, on the basis of court orders and strict work procedures,” Israeli Police said. The Washington Post reports Omer Bar-Lev, the country’s country’s public security minister, said an initial investigation had found no evidence of a “secretive wiretapping” program but promised a judge would check everything “thoroughly and unequivocally.”

“We would like to clarify that the company does not operate the systems in its customers’ possession and is not involved in their operation,” NSO Group said in a statement the company shared with Israeli media. “The company sells its products under license and supervision for the use of security bodies and state law enforcement agencies, to prevent crime and terrorism legally, and according to court orders and local law in each country.”

Per The Guardian, Israeli law only allows Shin Bet, the country’s domestic intelligence agency, to hack a phone without a court order. What’s more, the only context in which the agency is allowed to carry out such an action is to prevent a terrorist attack involving Palestinians, Israeli-Arabs or Israeli-Jews. Approval from a senior Shin Bet official or the attorney general’s office is also required. No such exemption exists for the country’s police service. However, according to Calcalist, the software wasn’t directly covered by Israel’s existing laws.

The report comes a month after Reuters found the Pegasus spyware had been used to target at least nine US State Department officials. In that instance, an unknown assailant had used the software to target federal employees who were either stationed in Uganda or whose work involved the African country. NSO has claimed its software can’t target devices linked to American or Israeli phone numbers. 

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COVIDTests.gov is accepting orders for free rapid tests a day early


Folks in the US can now order free, at-home COVID-19 tests from a United States Postal Service website, one day earlier than expected. Last week, the Biden administration said people would be able to place orders starting on Wednesday. At the time of the announcement, COVIDtests.gov was a placeholder site, but it now directs users to the USPS to place an order.

Households can each request one set of four rapid antigen tests. USPS will start shipping the kits later this month and usually within seven to 12 days of ordering. 

The administration says the site went live one day early as part of its beta phase, according toCNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Officials are hoping to troubleshoot the site and ensure the official launch goes smoothly on Wednesday. Sure enough, at the time of writing, some people were having trouble loading the site, so you might not be able to place an order right away.

The COVIDtests.gov site provides some more information about the tests. You should see results within 30 minutes and can be taken anywhere. It provides guidance on when to take a test, as well as directions on what to do based on the results. The site also has resources about testing sites and insurance reimbursement for at-home tests.

The Biden administration said it was buying a billion rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests to distribute to Americans. Half of those are expected to be available for order this week. The White House said its goal was to make sure everyone has a test available when they need one, especially given that tests are in high demand and are often difficult to find in stores.

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Twitter expands misinformation reporting to three more countries


Twitter's experiment with misinformation reporting is now available in more countries. As TechCrunchreports, Twitter has expanded the "it's misleading" reporting test to Brazil, Spain and the Philippines — a significant rollout when the option was previously available only in Australia, South Korea and the US. The rollout should continue throughout 2022.

The tool has been popular, at least. Twitter said it received over 3.7 million reports since the misinformation test went live in August 2021. While site integrity head Yoel Roth said the "vast majority" of misinformation responses were either automated or proactive, the user reports have already helped the company detect patterns. It was especially useful for spotting links and media beyond Twitter, Roth said.

The leader cautioned that reports had their limitations so far. Only about 10 percent of them merited action versus 20 to 30 percent for other categories (such as abuse). Some people were prone to merely flagging off-topic tweets as misinformation. The experimentation will give Twitter a chance to "filter and prioritize" reports, according to Roth, and to improve the functionality for non-English languages.

Along with the Birdwatch fact-checking program, the expanded reporting test represents a partial shift toward crowdsourcing as part of Twitter's efforts to fight falsehoods. We wouldn't expect Twitter to rely primarily on users given the sheer volume of posts. These initiatives might help Twitter catch misinformation it would otherwise miss, however, and could prevent bogus claims from gaining significant traction.

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'Cuphead' animated series comes to Netflix February 18th


You won't have to wait as long for Netflix's Cuphead show as you did for the video game. Netflix has revealedThe Cuphead Show premieres February 18th, and has offered a trailer to show just what you can expect. At first glance, fans of the difficult-but-loveable side-scroller don't have much to worry about — Studio MDHR's signature 1930s art style and characters have successfully made the leap, even if this is still a modern cartoon in many respects.

The trailer shows Cuphead and his easily-persuaded brother Mugman getting into plenty of trouble by visiting the "Carnevil," among other hijinks. They'll have to contend with the Devil and King Dice as well as friends that include Ms. Chalice (from the game's upcoming Delicious Last Course DLC), Elder Kettle and the pig shopkeeper. You can also see several of the game's lesser bosses make cameo appearances in the clip.

The series stars voice acting veterans Tru Valentino and Frank Todaro as Cuphead and Mugman respectively, with Wayne Brady as King Dice. It's too early to say if The Cuphead Show will be as popular as some of Netflix's other video game endeavors, but the influence of Studio MDHR creators Chad and Jared Moldenhauer (who helped executive-produce the show) is clear. This appears to be a sincere nod to what made the game special, not just an attempt to milk its success and widen its audience.

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Lenovo made a $329 Snapdragon-powered Windows 11 tablet for students


Lenovo has revealed its latest batch of devices geared toward students. Perhaps the most eye-catching offering is a Snapdragon 7c-powered Windows 11 tablet. The company suggests the 10w Tablet might be a great fit for younger students, since the device has a rugged design with a rubber bumper and Corning Gorilla Glass on the Full HD, 10.1-inch display. The screen has a 16:10 aspect ratio and 400 nits of brightness. There are 2MP front-facing and 8MP rear-facing cameras too.

Lenovo 10w Tablet
Lenovo

The tablet comes with a detachable keyboard and there's an optional pen. The 10w Tablet has a 30Whr battery and comes with up to 8GB of LPDDR4x RAM and up to 128GB of eMMC storage. Unfortunately, there's only one USB-C port, but there is a headphone jack, which should help students avoid having to fiddle with the Windows Bluetooth settings. The tablet weighs 573g (1.26 lbs) and 1.1kg (2.42 lbs) with the keyboard.

Lenovo suggests the Snapdragon platform will help deliver responsive performance, dependable WiFi connectivity and an extended battery life. The ARM-based Windows experience hasn't historically beengreat, but we haven't seen Windows 11 running on Snapdragon 7c chipsets as yet. Microsoft has seemingly improved the Windows-on-ARM experience, however. 

The 10w Tablet and keyboard bundle starts at $329 and it's expected to ship in the US in April.

For (perhaps older) students who need extra power, Lenovo is also planning to ship the 13w Yoga convertible laptop in April. The system is powered by an AMD Ryzen 5000 U-series processor with on-chip graphics.

The laptop has a 13.3-inch, Full HD display with 300 nits of brightness. The front-facing 1080p camera has a privacy shutter and you'll find a 5MP camera on the rear. There's an optional fingerprint reader on the power button too.

Lenovo 13w Yoga
Lenovo

The 13w Yoga includes up to 16GB of 3200Mhz DDR4 RAM (which users can upgrade) and up to a 512GB SSD. Lenovo says it has Dolby Audio and a 51Whr battery.

The connectivity options are far more generous than on the 10w Tablet. Along with an audio jack, there are two USB-C 3.2 ports, one USB-A 3.2 port, a full SD card reader and HDMI 2.0. There's WiFi 6 and optional 4G LTE support as well. The 13w Yoga will start at $749.

In addition, Lenovo announced a partnership with VictoryXR to offer educational experiences in virtual reality. Students will be able to access more than 60 VR titles from VictoryXR, centered around science, history and career and technical education. They'll be able to virtually visit the likes of The Great Wall of China and see California Redwoods.

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Microsoft Game Pass tops 25 million subscribers


Microsoft's bid for Activision Blizzard may be the highlight of the day, but the company also revealed a major milestone for its Game Pass service in the process. The all-you-can-play offering now has over 25 million subscribers, a nearly 39 percent jump over the 18 million it had a year earlier. The company didn't say how many of those customers were using the service on Xbox consoles, Windows PCs or both.

It's a significant figure for the service, if not as big as the company would have liked. As Axiosnoted, Microsoft missed its Game Pass growth target for the fiscal year that ended in June 2021 — it hoped for a 48 percent year-over-year jump in members, but 'only' managed 37 percent. While this was still strong and preceded the release of Halo Infinite, the company is clearly eager to improve Game Pass' performance.

That, in turn, explains one of the reasons for the Activision Blizzard deal. Microsoft has made clear that it intends to offer Activision Blizzard games through Game Pass. The $10 or more you're asked to pay each month might become far more compelling if you know you'll always have the latest Call of Duty or World of Warcraft release on top of Game Pass' other titles. Although the merger might not complete until 2023, it could preserve Game Pass' momentum and help fend off looming competition from Sony.

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Roku is making a Weird Al mockumentary starring Daniel Radcliffe


It took more than a decade, but Weird Al is finally about to get the documentary he has always deserved. You may recall back in 2010 Funny Or Die released a trailer for Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. The clip promised an unflinching look at Yankovic’s life with performances from actors like Aaron Paul, Olvia Wilde and Gary Cole. We’re not about to get that film (sadly), but Roku may just give us the next best thing.

The company announced today it’s backing production on WEIRD: The Weird Al Jankovic Story. Instead of Aaron Paul as Yankovic, we get Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. Eric Appel, best known for his work on Silicon Valley and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, co-wrote the film’s script alongside Yankovic and is directing the project. If Appel’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he directed the 2010 trailer for Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.

“I am absolutely thrilled that Daniel Radcliffe will be portraying me in the film,” Yankovic said in a statement. “I have no doubt whatsoever that this is the role future generations will remember him for.” WEIRD: The Weird Al Yankovic Story doesn’t have a release date yet, but production on the film is slated to start next month. Once it’s ready, it will be available to watch for free on The Roku Channel.

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Fortnite's latest update adds climbable monsters and brings back Tilted Towers


Fortnite may be on to a new chapter, but Epic Games is keen to bring back the past in more ways than one. To begin with, the developer has added decidedly Toothless-like climbable monsters (Klombos) that traverse the map. You can use the blowholes on their heads to fly away from pursuing rivals, and feed them fruit (Klomberries) to get items. They're normally peaceful, but can be provoked into a frenzy.

The latest update also revives Tilted Towers, arguably Fortnite's best-known location. While there appear to be some cosmetic changes, you'll have the chance to revisit the sniper-friendly clock tower, scour restaurants for items and otherwise take a nostalgia trip. While we'd expect this to be a hot drop zone for at least a little while (i.e. don't expect to last long), it might be worth a visit to see an iconic area that hasn't been available for two years.

Whatever your travel plans, you'll want to be aware of a couple of smaller gameplay-related updates. The grenade launcher has returned with more direct firing and rounds that explode after their first bounce. And if you're skilled enough to earn more than 99 Crowned Victory Royales, the matching Crowning Achievement emote now displays that number. Your bragging rights remain intact, and you might just have the weapon needed to back them up.

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Weber's 2022 smart grill lineup includes gas and pellet options


Grilling season will be here before you know it, so one of the biggest names in backyard cooking is tipping its hand for spring. Today, Weber announced it's 2022 lineup of smart grills with options for cooks who prefer gas or pellet-burning options. No matter the fuel source, all of the new models teased here are equipped with the company's WiFi-enabled Weber Connect technology. With it, you can control and monitor your grill from your phone, keeping tabs on the cooking process while you work on side dishes or relax with guests. 

Weber Connect was first available on the Smart Grilling Hub, but its big debut came on the first-gen SmokeFire pellet grills. The technology not only provides recipes, but it also guides you through the entire cooking process on a step-by-step basis, from how to prepare meat to when to flip and how long to rest before slicing. In a bid to outsmart the competition, the app also provides estimated doneness times so you're not left guessing when that brisket will finally hit 205 degrees Fahrenheit. In 2021, the company brought the technology to its Genesis line of gas grills, offering the same convenience as SmokeFire with a more commonly used fuel source — plus the ability to monitor your propane tank level. 

For 2022, Weber is taking convenience a step further with a range of new Genesis gas grills and a new version of SmokeFire. First, the Genesis lineup of smart grills still feature Weber Connect on top of PureBlu high-heat burners, sear zone, side table, expandable top cooking grate and "Nightvision." As the name implies that last item allows you to see the grilling surface after dark, with motion-sensing LEDs that can illuminate the entire cooking area when you open the lid — including the side tables/burner. The lights are on the reverse side of the handle, with a power button on outside to turn them completely off. Weber says the new Genesis models will come in both three- and four-burner options as well as models with porcelain-enamel or stainless steel finishes. 

Weber SmokeFire Stealth Edition
Weber

For the SmokeFire pellet grill this year, Weber is going all black. Dubbed the Stealth Edition, the black-on-black color scheme nixes the silver accents from the original along the sides of the lid, the side shelf and the handles. Weber Connect is still on board, helping you with everything from high heat searing to low-and-slow smoking. The overall design is the same, except for the addition of an interior light for better visibility. As someone who has used a SmokeFire grill before sunrise and after dark, some built-in illumination is a welcome change. 

Alongside the grills, Weber is also introducing new accessories it's calling Weber Crafted. The collection of tools includes a dual-sided sear grate, flat-top griddle, baking stone (for pizza, etc), roasting basket, wok/steamer combo and rotisserie skewers. Special grates and an insert allow you to swap out the accessories on charcoal, gas or pellet grills. The company explains that these add-ons let you steam, bake, roast and more, and you can do so on the grill rather than having to venture inside. Plus, the new Genesis grills have a compartment and hooks for storing the new goods. No word on pricing yet, but each item will be sold separately when they arrive this spring.

The new Genesis models and the Stealth Edition of SmokeFire will also go on sale this spring. The former will range from $1,049-$2,149 while the latter is $1,399. 

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'OlliOlli World' is a friendly but deceptively difficult skateboarding game


OlliOlli and its sequel, OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood, are notoriously difficult to master. These side-scrolling skateboarding games start out easily enough, but if you want to complete every challenge, get ready to play and replay some levels dozens of times over. It can be infuriating, but also extremely satisfying to pull off just the right combo of tricks and grinds needed for a big score.

I was worried that OlliOlli World, a new direction for the series that arrives on February 8th, was going to dispense with that level of challenge. After playing an extended preview of the game over the last week, I’m no longer concerned. Developer Roll7 has made a game that’s significantly more approachable than the original titles — but one that keeps the twitch-response gameplay and score-chasing highs intact for those who crave them.

For the uninitiated, OlliOlli World is a, 2.5D skateboarding platformer where your character simply has to make it from one end of the course to the other while pulling off as many tricks and combos as possible. That’s the same basic formula as the original games, but the scope of OlliOlli World is much greater. The game is split into five different areas, three of which were playable in my demo. The first one, Sunshine Valley, had close to 20 distinct levels, a handful of which were merely training levels meant to introduce the basics of skating, grinding and pulling off different tricks. But even if you don’t count those levels, there’s far more to explore in OlliOlli World than the two earlier games, each of which had 50 levels total.

There’s a host of ways to challenge yourself as you skate through these levels. For starters, you need to navigate grind rails, gaps, ramps and other obstacles to get to the end before you can progress. In a concession to the game’s history of bruising difficulty, though, levels now have checkpoints — so if you blow it 90 percent of the way through the level, you can try that last segment again. Of course, if you had a huge combo going that got interrupted, you’ll lose out on that opportunity for big points. But this at least makes it easier to learn levels and work on problem spots without having to tackle the entire course again.

But the levels are both extremely well designed and visually interesting, so I was eager to play and replay them until I mastered all the challenges and found as many secrets as I possibly could. The world is populated with colorful and fantastical creatures like walking bananas, smiling trees, giant bees holding signs for you to wall ride on, huge frogs (sometimes riding those giant bees) and, of course, the Skate Godz that you meet at the end of each world.

OlliOlli World
Roll7

See, your character is on a quest to become the new Skate Wizard, with the help of a goofy and delightful animated crew, including Chiffon, the one-eyed, pipe-smoking current Skate Wizard who’s ready to retire. To take their place, you’ll need to meet all of the Skate Godz that inhabit the five different zones you can play through. Each level has some banter with your crew as well as people you meet on your journeys, full of ridiculous puns and occasional advice on how to improve your scores or pull off new moves. You can skip it if you want, but it helped me get in the headspace of the gorgeous world of Radlandia.

It’s hard to sum up in words what makes the individual levels in OlliOlli World so compelling, but they mix serious challenge in with moments that let you really get into that elusive flow state, where you’re just pulling off tricks, riding rails and generally tearing through a course without thinking too much about what you’re doing. The music, sound effects, art style, level design and variety of moves you can pull off all contribute to this vibe — and even though the game looks entirely different from its predecessors, the end result is the same: skateboarding bliss.

My skills from the original OlliOlli games translated here, but there are plenty of new things to challenge long-time players. The game isn’t straight 2D anymore, which means there are multiple paths you can discover through many levels, something that seriously adds to replayability and challenge of these levels. Each level has multiple goals you’re presented with at the beginning, and meeting them all will almost certainly require multiple plays, especially as the game goes on and the tracks get more complex. 

Indeed, by the time I got about halfway through the third world in the game, I was seriously struggling to check off all of a level's goals. The good news is you can keep progressing without beating all three challenges, nor are you penalized for using checkpoints, but the game is so well designed that I wanted to keep going back and trying to best my earlier scores and nail those goals.

OlliOlli World
Roll7

There are plenty of new moves like grabs to pull off, and quarter-pipes let you change the direction your skater is going in. It sounds simple, but having your skater go right-to-left instead of the opposite really threw me for a loop, but I also audibly cheered the first time I skated into one of those quarter-pipes. They add a whole new dimension to the game that I wasn’t expecting.

It’s also worth mentioning some of the other ways Roll7 made this game more approachable than the earlier ones. Besides the aforementioned checkpoints, it’s a lot harder to wipe out now. Earlier games required you to press a button when landing, or else you’d lose all your momentum as well as the points you accumulated from a trick. Now, you can land without having to worry about that step — but pulling off so-called “perfect” landings increases your speed and score.

The main game is a deep experience, but Roll7 added new features for those who love to chase high scores. Every time you finish a level, you’ll see a rival player’s score that you’re then challenged to best. It’s subtle, just showing your rival’s high score beneath your best score — but these challenges taunted me into playing a few extra rounds to try and beat that challenge. OlliOlli World is smart enough to match you with players of your own skill level, so if your high score tops out at 100,000, you won’t be challenged to beat someone who got 1 million on a level; the rival scores are usually around 20 percent higher than your own best. It’s good encouragement to push yourself even harder through a level.

OlliOlli World also offers daily challenges through the Gnarvana League, which you unlock once you finish the game’s first area. Here, you join a league where you’re pitted against nine competitors who again skate at a similar skill level to you. The levels change every day, and you’re simply trying to put up the best score in your group. As you play, you can get promoted to other leagues, where the courses presumably will get trickier. I’ll readily admit that after putting up a score that put me on top of my group, I kept my eyes on the league throughout the day to see if I’d have to replay it and improve my score to keep that top spot.

OlliOlli World
Roll7

Finally, there’s a random level generator that you can use to challenge your friends or strangers to put up their best score. The Gnarvana Portal is extremely simple, letting you pick a level’s “style,” which is based on the five main worlds in the game. You can then choose one of four difficulty levels and set the course’s length. Once it’s generated, you can share that course via an eight-digit postcode. That code lets anyone else try your level, regardless of what platform they’re playing on, and you again compete to see who can put up the highest score. The fun thing is that anyone can try this, so you can give the postcode to a few close friends, or post it online and challenge anyone you want.

For the first time in an OlliOlli game, you can also customize your character to your heart's content. There are a ton of clothing options, hairstyles, skateboard designs, skin color options and much more here, and you'll unlock much more as you check off the different challenges each level offers. Unlike the first two games' single, generic male skater design, you can make a character here that truly fits your personality.

There’s a ton of game here for $30, and the Roll7 team has at least two DLC expansions planned for later this year (both of which are included if you order the $45 Rad Edition). If you have even a passing interest in skateboarding or platformer games, OlliOlli World is absolutely worth your time. It’s deeper, brighter, bigger and more fun than the original games, and I expect it’ll be a hit with hardcore OlliOllli fanatics as well as a much bigger new audience experiencing the thrill of this meditative skating series for the first time.

OlliOlli World will be available on the Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC on February 8th.

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Microsoft is buying Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion


Microsoft just made one of the largest-ever bids for a game studio. The company has announced plans to acquire Activision Blizzard for $95 per share, valuing the all-cash deal at an enormous $68.7 billion. The deal would make the combined entity the "third-largest" game company by revenue, according to Microsoft, and would put titles like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Candy Crush under the company's wing. Microsoft plans to add Activision Blizzard games to Game Pass as part of the deal.

Mobile gaming is also a significant factor in the acquisition, Microsoft said. On top of folding King's phone games into Microsoft's business, the purchase promises to bring franchises like Halo and Warcraft to more devices.

The buyout is expected to close sometime in Microsoft's fiscal 2023 (no later than June 2023) if regulators and Activision Blizzard shareholders greenlight the move. The boards of directors for both companies have already approved the deal.

While news of the acquisition comes as Activision Blizzard is still embroiled in a misconduct scandal, you shouldn't expect significant leadership changes. Bobby Kotick will remain Activision Blizzard's CEO despite calls for his resignation, and will now report to Microsoft Gaming chief Phil Spencer. Separately, though, the Wall Street Journal reports that Kotick will leave shortly after the deal is complete, a move that wouldn't be unexpected given the that Spencer will be leading Microsoft's gaming efforts. In a company letter, Kotick described Microsoft's move as a chance to "further strengthen" Activision Blizzard's workplace culture and "set a new standard" for inclusiveness. He didn't outline specific plans for reform, but did say there would be "minimal changes" to staff counts after the union was complete.

If it moves forward, the merger would help Microsoft compete with heavyweights Tencent and Sony, which have both been on buying sprees in recent months. Kotick also saw this helping his company better compete as metaverse gaming rises to prominence. In that light, this may be as much a matter of future-proofing the company as anything else.

Some major questions remain, though. Microsoft didn't say how many Activision Blizzard games would be Xbox-exclusive on consoles, or Windows-exclusive on computers. It's also unclear how much Microsoft might influence development of key franchises. It's not certain Microsoft will lock Call of Duty or other giant games to the Xbox in the near future, though — PlayStation sales represent a large chunk of Activision Blizzard's revenue, and dropping that platform would significantly reduce the company's clout in the games industry.

CEO Bobby Kotick's letter to Activision Blizzard employees is below:

Team,

Today is an incredibly exciting day. As we continue our journey to connect and engage the world through epic entertainment, we will eventually do so as part of Microsoft. I am certain that our incredible talent and extraordinary games combined with our shared commitment to the very best workplace will enable us to grow in an increasingly more competitive race for leadership as gaming through the metaverse evolves.

How we got here and where we’re going

When you reflect on what we’ve built together, we have so much to be proud of. For the last 31 years, we’ve continuously shaped gaming through our commitment to deliver joy, fun, and the thrill of accomplishment.

We’ve transformed games into social experiences and enabled players to find purpose and meaning through the most engaging form of entertainment – our games. By doing so, we’ve created and entertained communities of hundreds of millions of players.

Connecting these communities together is the next step. Facebook, Google, Tencent, NetEase, Amazon, Apple, Sony, Disney – and many more – have ambitions for their own gaming and metaverse initiatives. Established and emerging competitors see opportunity for virtual worlds filled with professionally produced content, user generated content and rich social connections.

Our talent and our games are important components of the construction of a rich metaverse. We have always attracted the very best game makers and built the very best games, seizing opportunity with passion, inspiration, focus, and determination.

A partnership to define the future

As investments in cloud computing, AI and machine learning, data analytics, and user interface and experience capabilities are becoming more competitive, we believe this partnership will better enable our ambitions.

In considering possible partners, all roads ultimately lead to Microsoft. Like us, they have been making games for a long time. Microsoft has already distributed games to hundreds of millions of the world’s computers and computing devices and has technologies and innovation that will support the next generation of games.

Microsoft also will support our journey to further strengthen our culture. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, has been a passionate advocate for caring as the currency of leadership. Inspiring people through empathy is a powerful motivator, and one we embrace as we renew our resolve – and in the work we are now doing – to set a new standard for a welcoming and inclusive workplace culture.

Importantly, Microsoft wants you – your talent, your creativity, and your dedication to each other. Activision Blizzard’s success throughout the years can be directly attributed to each of you. Microsoft recognizes the commitment to excellence and creative independence that sets us apart, and we anticipate minimal changes for our workforce following the close of the transaction. Microsoft’s diverse operations will give us access to valuable expertise, technology, and tools and provide even greater opportunities for learning and development.

No organization’s culture, including ours, is without need for improvement, and thanks to your input, we are making strides in improving ours. My commitment is to continue evolving our culture so that come closing, Microsoft is acquiring an exemplary workplace.

What’s next

Transactions like these can take a long time to complete. Until we receive all the necessary regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions are satisfied, which we expect to be sometime in Microsoft’s fiscal 2023 year ending June 30, 2023, we will continue to operate completely autonomously. I will continue as our CEO with the same passion and enthusiasm I had when I began this amazing journey in 1991.

Of course, this announcement will give rise to so many questions. We will host numerous forums and events to make certain we address your concerns.

I am incredibly proud of this company, you, and the work we have done together. Now it’s on to our next chapter and the endless possibilities this transaction represents for us. I couldn’t be more appreciative of your efforts, focus, and the dedication to connecting the world through joy and fun.

With gratitude,

Bobby

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UK government announces official crackdown on 'misleading' crypto ads


The UK government has revealed that it plans to update its laws in order "to bring the promotion of cryptoassets within the scope of financial promotions legislation." That will ensure any crypto promotion will be held to the same standards as promotion for stocks, shares and insurance products. It also has fall in line with the rules set by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Governments have recently started cracking down on crypto ads in an effort to protect consumers from scams they may not be familiar with. The Spanish government is currently establishing rules on how influencers and their sponsors promote cryptocurrencies. Meanwhile, Singapore's authorities asked crypto companies outright not to market their services to the public. One type of scam is the "pump and dump," in which fraudsters find ways to artificially inflate the value of a cryptocurrency and to get people to invest money in it. They then unload their shares while the value is high to make a lot of money, thereby lowering the coin's value in the process. 

According to the UK government, approximately 2.3 million people in the country are now thought to own a cryptoasset. While cryptoassets' popularity is rising, the FCA's research suggests (PDF) that potential investors' level of understanding about them is on the decline. That means people may not be fully aware of the risks involved when it comes to investing in them, which further supports "the case for regulatory intervention to ensure that cryptoasset promotions are fair, clear, and not misleading. "

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People are losing sleep after Google replaced the 'white noise' sound on Nest speakers


In case you didn't know, Google Assistant devices like the Nest Hub can play white noise ambient sound to help you or your young ones get to sleep. However, multiple users have noticed that Google recently changed that to something that loops more frequently and has a muffled sound, according to 9to5Google. As a result, they and their infants and toddlers are apparently losing sleep over it.

"White noise" is among the 14 ambient noises available from Google Assistant, along with "babbling brook," "fireplace," "ocean" and others. You can play them for up to 12 hours if not disabled by a sleep timer, and the 2nd-gen Nest Hub has an "auto-off" feature that turns off the sound once you fall asleep.

Previously, it looped the White Noise sound every hour, but now the sound is repeated every 10 minutes, something users find annoying and repetitive. On top of that, the previously crisp sound file is now apparently "muffled" and quieter than before. "It's a different pitch, almost muffled," said one user. "Very annoying you have to set the volume to 70 percent," another noted. 

There are at least 100 complaints along the same lines, with many people saying they use the white noise to get their babies or toddlers to sleep. "I play it every night for my toddler and she's really upset about this change," said one. "Please, let there be a way to get the older version back so we can maintain our sleep schedule and sanity!"

Google may have changed the file to reduce data usage, as one Redditor said that his Mini used about 4GB of data every night just playing Google's ambient noises. Another acknowledged that this is a "first world problem," but it goes to show how tiny changes in widely used technology can cause unintended problems. If you use the old sound and miss it, another Reddit user has uploaded the original to Google Drive, so you could in theory download it and cast to YouTube Music. 

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