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Rebooting augmented reality for Generation Alpha

Voice Of EU



Fresh from a €1m Series A, HoloToyz is taking the lead from Tim Cook and going all-in on AR for the next generation of children’s toys.

The founders of HoloToyz know they are trying where others have failed.

“AR [augmented reality] has previously been tried in the toy industry, but the timing was not right for a number of reasons and the user experience was poor,” said CEO Kate Scott.

Future Human

“Fortunately for us, we were able to learn from those who have tried this in the past and we are bringing a much higher standard of quality and user experience to market at the right time.”

That time, for founders Scott, Declan Fahy and Paul Cosgrave, was 2020 – an interesting time for anyone to start a business. Luckily, the HoloToyz team were able to use the transformation of business brought on by the pandemic to their advantage.

The pivot to digital meetings lowered the bar for emerging start-ups such as HoloToyz to access the world stage.

“[It] helped us to meet people across the globe without the associated travel costs and ‘dead’ time,” said Scott. “It has also made it easier to secure meetings with the larger companies that might not have had the time or slots at busy trade shows.”

The Nuremberg International Toy Fair, or Spielwarenmesse, for example, is the world’s largest toy fair hosting trade visitors, journalists and selected guests at a six-day event.

Scott, Fahy and Cosgrave litmus tested HoloToyz at the 2020 event and were so pleased with the results they decided to pack in their day jobs and focus 100pc on the new start-up. But by the time the 2021 event came around, the world of events had changed and HoloToyz had to present their product virtually.

“Nickelodeon contacted us after seeing our live presentation on Spielwarenmesse’s Instagram account,” recalled Scott. The pandemic was not going to stop this start-up in its tracks.

HoloToyz partnered with Nickelodeon and is preparing to launch a range of tattoos, stickers and books for the popular Paw Patrol series in the coming months.

The company has also started discussions with Sega to create a Sonic the Hedgehog range this summer, in time to ride the wave of popularity the ’90s gaming character is experiencing via a cinematic reboot.

‘We founded HoloToyz with our parent hats on’

HoloToyz’s physical products pair with a “kid-safe app” to bring 2D characters and creatures to life in 3D augmented reality.

“By finding the right balance between digital and physical play, we are introducing exciting new technologies to young children in a safe environment, without forgetting the centrality of the user experience,” said Scott.

The goal, according to Scott, is to “create and own an AR category” that is internationally known.

“We believe we have what it takes to become the No 1 loved and trusted fun-tech toy that bridges the gap between physical and digital play,” she said.

The balance between physical and digital play while ensuring a healthy relationship with technology is top of mind for the HoloToyz team.

“We founded HoloToyz with our parent hats on and we have seen first-hand how much fun our children have playing with the AR filters on Instagram, SnapChat and TikTok, etc. However, these are not safe platforms for children as they are only a swipe away from content that is simply inappropriate for their age,” explained Scott.

“A quick scan of the app stores will show you just how many apps are available for children aged three and up. However, this is offering a digital-only experience and most applications either charge you to download, include in-app purchases or bombard your child with in-app advertising.”

Targeted advertising for children is something that will be stopped in the EU in the near future, if the European Commission has anything to do with it, but there are still many issues to address when it comes to children and technology.

It’s of particular concern when it comes to Generation Alpha, the demographic coming up after Gen Z in a tech-saturated world we have yet to succeed in regulating effectively.

“We are targeting millennial parents and Generation Alpha,” Scott explained. “Millennial parents have grown up in an age of digital revolution and are the first to experience social media and emerging technologies. As parents, they are not afraid to share and enjoy digital experiences with their children and they recognise this is the world their children will grow up in.

“They are also the first generation that has come to expect a more intimate relationship with brands and so expect a higher level of honesty, transparency and quality from brands, particularly those they are purchasing for their children.”

Scott also noted how these new parents value toys that tap into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and that Generation Alpha stands to gain from this exposure at a young age.

“It is estimated that by the time they are eight years old, they will surpass their parents in technology skills. They will never know a world without the internet of things, smart technology and virtual reality,” she said.

‘We are targeting millennial parents and Generation Alpha’

Scott and co are not alone in pitching augmented reality as the next big thing. Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that AR will “pervade our entire lives”. This is helped by the fact that today’s smart devices are often already equipped with the sensors needed to create AR experiences. HoloToyz’s success hinges on connecting to these devices.

“HoloToyz is operating in the connected toy market. The product spectrum of this market is segmented into smartphone-connected devices, app-connected drones, console-connected toys and tablet-connected toys,” said Scott.

“In 2021, the size of the global toy market was $93bn. The global connected toy market size is expected to grow from $7.6bn in 2020 to $18.9bn by 2027.”

It’s a huge opportunity for small but growing team based in Tara, Co Meath.

“Our team are veterans of the tech and gaming industry for over 40 years and help us to ensure the quality of animations and technology used in creating HoloToyz is unparalleled,” said Scott.

She herself has a background in communications and marketing, including roles at Independent News & Media (now Mediahuis) and Rothco, part of Accenture Interactive. Sales director Fahy was also at INM and this is his second company with Cosgrave, with whom he co-founded Bash Products. Bash saw success in bringing its version of the famous red Solo cup to Ireland and has since branched out to a wider range of partyware.

HoloToyz, meanwhile, has added a global sales manager, product developer, “industry-specific” financial consultant and business adviser to the its team, and partnered with a creative team that specialises in the toy sector. The company’s tech partners are also shareholders in the business.

The first HoloToyz products hit the market in December 2020 and they are currently available in more than 14 countries.

2022 continues to hit high notes for HoloToyz, starting with a silver award in the Editor’s choice category at the London Toy Fair. This was followed by an appearance at Enterprise Ireland’s Start-up Showcase. HoloToyz has been identified by Enterprise Ireland as a high-potential start-up and has just completed a €1m Series A round from the State agency and other investors.

“Our focus for the coming months is to launch our licensed products to market and work on growing our footprint globally,” said Scott.

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Welsh council extends contract for Oracle EBS 12.1 • The Register

Voice Of EU



Swansea City Council has been forced to extend an IT service provider contract to keep its unsupported and unpatched ERP system up and running because its replacement is running two years behind.

A procurement document published last week shows Infosys was awarded £2 million contract (c $2.40 million) extension, until 30 November 2023, to support the Welsh council’s Oracle eBusiness Suite ERP system while it waits for the replacement Oracle Fusion system to be ready. It takes Infosys’s total for supporting the old system to £6.7 million (c $8.1 million).

Council documents reveal the authority runs its finance and HR systems on EBS R12.1, which moved into Oracle Sustaining Support in January 2022 and will therefore no longer receive new fixes, updates, or security patches.

In 2019, the council approved plans to move to Oracle Fusion [PDF] in the expectation that the new system would be live by November 2020.

However, the council had to change the schedule due to time lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council risked failing its Public Service Network accreditation: report

It said using unsupported software “increased the risk of cyber-attacks and potential data theft” while there was also “a risk payroll may not function, staff and pensioners may not be paid.” The report also said the council risked failing its Public Service Network (PSN) accreditation, which meant it could be prevented from sharing data with the health service, police, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

However, in March 2020, the council invoked a force majeure clause – which alters parties’ contractual obligations – with the support provider Infosys and began discussions to resume the program.

It opted to suspend the program and start back up in February 2021, with the aim to go live in October 2021. The plans said Infosys had agreed to absorb additional costs for this extension.

It said Oracle had agreed to extend support from November 2020 to 2022 so it could get regular updates and patches. “Although this risk still exists, it has been mitigated,” it said.

Given the council has awarded a contract well after the planned go-live of its replacement, it seems those assumptions are under threat. The council has so far failed to respond to The Register‘s request for comment.

Its Fusion project might provide some lessons for the London Borough of Waltham Forest, which plans to have its core solution – a move away from an ageing SAP ERP system – live within a year of the project’s start.

Other councils have learned about the complexity of ERP projects the hard way. In December last year, The Register revealed that West Sussex County Council was facing a two-year delay to a £7.5 million ($9.2 million) Oracle ERP project to replace its 20-year-old SAP system with Fusion. Surrey County Council has also seen its project to move from SAP to Unit4 delayed and incur additional costs. ®

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Sony shifts focus to PC gamers with new Inzone monitors and headsets

Voice Of EU



Sony aims to boost the ‘growth of gaming culture’ with two 27-inch monitors and three headsets, designed for both PC and Playstation gamers.

Sony has announced a batch of new monitors and headsets with a focus on PC gamers, as the company looks to reach out to more than its core Playstation audience.

The Inzone range consists of two 27-inch monitors and three headsets, which are all designed to enhance a gamer’s experience. While the main target appears to be PC gamers, the products have features that suit PS5 users.

Sony said its Inzone M9 monitor has 4K resolution and a high contrast with full array local dimming, designed to boost the detail of gaming scenes in deep black and brightness. The monitor also has a 144Hz refresh rate, an IPS display and a 1ms response time. Sony said the monitor will help lead to quicker reactions, which is a clear benefit for competitive PC gamers.

Meanwhile, the M3 monitor will have a 240Hz refresh rate, along with variable refresh rate technology to help gamers “capture movements of rivals in shooter games”.

To go with the monitors, Sony is releasing two wireless headsets, along with the wired Inzone H3 model. The Inzone H9 will have 32 hours of battery life, while the H7 model will have 40 hours.

Speaking on the products, Sony’s head of game business and marketing office Yukihiro Kitajima said there has been a higher interest in gaming with the spread of e-sports tournaments and the advancement of gaming entertainment.

“With Sony’s strong history of high-end audio and visual technology products, we believe this new line will offer even more options for those looking to upgrade their current gaming systems,” Kitajima said.

“We are committed to contributing to the growth of gaming culture by providing PC and PlayStation gamers with a wider range of options to enrich lives through gaming.”

The Inzone headsets range from €300 to €100 and are expected to launch in July, while the M9 monitor is due to launch in the Summer at a cost of €1099. Sony said the pricing and availability of the M3 monitor is expected to be revealed sometime this year.

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Why US women are deleting their period tracking apps | Privacy

Voice Of EU



Many American women in recent days have deleted period tracking apps from their cellphones, amid fears the data collected by the apps could be used against them in future criminal cases in states where abortion has become illegal.

The trend already started last month when a draft supreme court opinion that suggested the court was set to overturn Roe v Wade was leaked, and has only intensified since the court on Friday revoked the federal right to abortion.

These concerns are not baseless. As with various other apps, cycle trackers collect, retain and at times share some of their users’ data. In a state where abortion is a crime, prosecutors could request information collected by these apps when building a case against someone. “If they are trying to prosecute a woman for getting an illegal abortion, they can subpoena any app on their device, including period trackers,” said Sara Spector, a Texas-based criminal defense attorney, and ex-prosecutor.

“But every company has their individual storage and privacy policy about how they use and how long they store data,” Spector added.

Cycle trackers are popular for a reason. Nearly a third of American women have been using them, according to a 2019 survey published by the Kaiser Family Foundation. They have helped make women’s lives easier in many ways, from family planning and detecting early signs of health issues to choosing the perfect time for a holiday.

A 2019 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that 79% of health apps available through the Google Play store that were related to medicine, including apps that help manage drugs, adherence, medicines, or prescribing information, regularly shared user data and were “far from transparent”. But many of the big players have made progress over the past years.

A smartphone sits on a light wooden table showing the period tracker app Clue in the Google Play store.
The Berlin-based period tracker app Clue says it does not store sensitive personal data without the user’s explicit permission. Photograph: Piotr Swat/Alamy

Two of the most popular period trackers in the US, Flo and Clue, have more than 55 million users combined. The Berlin-based app Clue said it was “committed to protecting” users’ private health data and that it was operating under strict European GDPR laws. The company’s website says the app collects device data, event and usage data, in addition to a user’s IP address, health and sensitive data it may use for the purpose of improving the app, the services, and preventing abusive use of its service. But Clue does not track users’ precise location, and says it does not store sensitive personal data without a user’s explicit permission. The company also tweeted that it would have a “primary legal duty under European law” not to disclose any private health data and it would “not respond to any disclosure request or attempted subpoena of their users’ health data by US authorities”.

But just because data is being processed by a European company, doesn’t mean that it is entirely immune from US prosecution, said Lucie Audibert, a lawyer at Privacy International, a global NGO that researches, litigates and advocates against abuses of technology and data by governments and corporations.

“The fact that GDPR applies is not that relevant in this case. When it comes to a legitimate legal request from US authorities European companies usually comply. Also, a European company may be hosting data outside the EU, making it subject to different legal frameworks and cross-border agreements,” Audibert added. She also stressed that using a Europe-based app won’t protect women from the courts requesting data from them directly. But it can be a slightly better option than using a US-based one because US companies are more easily compelled to comply with American authorities and courts’ requests. Enforcement is more difficult against European ones.

Flo has come under fire for sharing its users’ data before. The company says on its website it only uses data “for research activities” and that it only uses “de-identified or aggregated data, which cannot be associated” with specific users. But an investigative piece by the Wall Street Journal has found that the app informed Facebook when a user was on their period or if they intended to get pregnant. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a settlement with Flo. Under the settlement, Flo must undergo an independent review of its privacy policy and obtain user permissions before sharing personal health information. Flo did not admit any wrongdoing.

On Friday, Flo announced that it will soon be launching an “Anonymous mode” that can help keep users’ data safe in any circumstances.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

A relatively new, astrology-focused period tracker, Stardust, became the most downloaded free app on iOS in the days after the supreme court’s decision. Stardust’s Twitter bio says it is a “privacy first period tracking app”. But as Vice News reported, the company stated in its privacy policy that if authorities ask for user data, it will comply, whether legally required to or not. It said that the data was “anonymized” and “encrypted”.

“We may disclose your anonymized, encrypted information to third parties in order to protect the legal rights, safety and security of the company and the users of our services; enforce our terms of service; prevent fraud; and comply with or respond to law enforcement or a legal process or a request for cooperation by a government or other entity, whether or not legally required,” their privacy policy stated as of Monday.

Following Vice’s request for comment, Stardust changed its privacy policy to omit the phrase about cooperating with law enforcement “whether or not legally required” to “when legally required”.

Stardust did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Planned Parenthood encourages people to use their app Spot On. “People who want to track their periods and birth control always have the option to remain anonymous by using the Spot On app without creating an account,” the organization said in a statement. “This way, period or birth control data is only saved locally to a person’s phone and can be deleted at any time by deleting the app.”

Third-party apps are not the only option when it comes to period trackers. Apple has a built-in cycle tracker in its Health app that offers more privacy than most external apps. With just a few steps, one can turn off the storing of their health data in iCloud, and it also has the option to store the encrypted data on their computer or phone.

Evan Greer, deputy director of the non-profit advocacy group Fight for the Future, said the best way to protect sensitive health data was to only use apps that store data locally rather than in the cloud. “Because any app where a company [that could receive a subpoena] has access to their users’ data could make it vulnerable for a legal request.”

An image of an Apple iPhone screen shows app icons, including the Health app.
Apple’s Health app has a built-in cycle tracker that offers users privacy. Photograph: Richard Sheppard/Alamy

Eva Blum-Dumontet, a tech policy consultant, said, “It is normal that in times of concern, people are looking differently at technology and apps that we trusted.

“I think when there is a discourse around whether women should delete these apps, we have to think about why they use them in the first place,” Blum-Dumontet said. “These trackers help them manage menstrual cycle when they are experiencing pain.”

Blum-Dumontet stressed that instead of asking users to change their behaviors, “it is period trackers that should change their practices”.

“They should never have owned so much data in the first place. If they adopted practices like storing data locally and minimizing the data to what’s strictly necessary we wouldn’t be having this debate now. It’s not too late for them to do the right thing,” she said.

“The companies that have been making a profit out of women’s bodies need to think very carefully about how they will protect their users,” she continued.They haven’t all been the best in the past when it comes to data sharing. The only way they can survive in this market, the only way they can make themselves trustworthy is by improving their privacy policy and giving users more control over their data,” she said. “If any of these apps will be used in court against their users, it will not be good PR for them.”

Melissa, a 27-year-old mother from Texas who is goingby only her first name to not jeopardize her employment, said she deleted the app because she fears that when she travels, her state could use her missed period data against her.

“I will miss using the app so much. I have used it for so many things, like tracking my ovulation or predicting my mood changes. Sometimes I wake up feeling irritable, and I don’t know why until my app tells me that this could be normal at this point of my cycle,” she added. Melissa also says she would have loved to use it for future conceptions, but now she can’t.

Although much of the warnings on Friday were focused on just period trackers these are not the only apps that can be used against users when it comes to criminal prosecution, experts warned.

“Google Maps or a random game on your phone could just as easily be weaponized against someone as a menstrual tracking app,” Greer said. “While we need to educate each other and take precautions, it’s not OK to put the responsibility solely on individuals. Companies and lawmakers need to act immediately to protect people.”

The concerns over period tracking data are part of a broader conversation about the amount of personal information smartphones collect. Women’s rights organizations all over the world are warning users to be more mindful of their digital presence, not just when it comes to period trackers.

Cycle tracking apps can be hugely useful for many women, said Jonathan Lord, UK medical director for MSI Reproductive Choices. “But all data can be used against you.”

According to Lord, this danger will remain until “we treat abortion like all other healthcare – regulated like all other medical procedures, but not criminalized”.

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