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This is not the tech unicorn you are looking for… and other stories • The Register

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Roundup Welcome to our weekly conclave of chaos and confusion as we collate another bunch of odd and unusual tales from the past seven days and present them to you in the manner of a small and grubby child handing a bunch of crumpled, hand-picked flowers to a slightly intoxicated aunt.

Little White WTF?

We commence with a frankly unnervingly dystopian vision of the future from China, where electric car startup XPeng has decided to move into the toy sector with a new, uncanny-valley-dwelling offering they call the Little White Dragon. Despite the name, this bizarre… thing is designed to vaguely resemble a unicorn, which for some reason is wearing an undersized crash helmet.

In truth, it looks they have repurposed an injured motorcyclist a la RoboCop, doubtless due to a deceptively worded job contract the hapless biker was persuaded to sign years ago by tricky corporate lawyers. It is honestly impossible to tell.

In the promotional video which accompanies this manga-influenced horror, it is shown playing with a child in a sort of barren, post-apocalyptic landscape, while a list of its features flash up in the corner of the screen. These could be interpreted as sensible qualities for what will doubtless become a form of robot babysitter, but they inevitably sound sinister given its superficial resemblance to Boston Dynamics’ objectively not-cute Spot robot.

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So while XPeng might feel proud to expound on Little White Dragon’s “multi-mode perception”, “object recognition”, “multi-terrain crossing” and, most disturbingly, “target tracking”, these do also sound worryingly like phrases that would have appeared in a sales manual for ED-209.

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Its creators also claim that it is rideable, which inevitably brings to mind the prospect of a child trotting across that post-apocalyptic wasteland on the back of its soothing, impassive plastic companion in a scene which could have come from the pen of Philip K Dick or the nightmarish military/cartoon landscapes of artist Simon Stålenhag.

XPeng have not yet revealed a release date or price for the Little White Dragon, but it will probably cost you your soul.

That nonsense might work in China, but I wouldn’t try it in Florida

Now over to Florida, where for once we are not going to talk about someone getting arrested while drunk and naked (although we very easily could have done).

One of Florida’s greatest natural resources is, of course, gawping out-of-towners trying to interact with unimpressed wildlife, a seemingly endless source of fame and notoriety for the state in these social media-dominated times.

One such mark was travel blogger Dev Langer, who thought it might be fun to try and get a close-up of an alligator she nicknamed “George” with a small camera drone. What with the drone being a small, buzzing thing that looks like a large insect and the ‘gator being an irascible, perpetually hungry reptile made entirely out of teeth, muscle and attitude, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, only the most obvious thing. Langer filmed George on her phone while the drone was flown close to its head, at which point the irritable alligator whipped its head sideways and snatched the irritating machine out of the air, crunching it in its jaws and rendering it considerably less useful to an aspiring travel blogger.

Youtube Video

Unfortunately for George, who is frankly blameless in this whole affair, while crushing the drone he bit through its battery casing, which led to it exploding in his mouth and emitting a large, billowing cloud of smoke.

Film of the doubtless astonished ‘gator sitting in a swamp with a huge plume of smoke coming out of its head subsequently went viral on social media, presumably leading to Langer receiving the boost to her profile she craved, but also to a lot of people wondering how it affected the poor alligator.

We at The Reg are very much on team alligator in this case, but given that they can regrow their tails, live with missing limbs, and survive wounds that would kill lesser beings while living in the least hygienic environment imaginable, we reckon he’ll probably be alright.

Barca boss’s inscrutable pig tweet

Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman left football fans scratching their heads this week when he posted a short video on his personal Twitter account featuring popular children’s cartoon character Peppa Pig then deleted it shortly afterwards.

The video in question, which was entitled “Bonus Peppa Pig Episodes and Activities“, was over an hour long, but the tweet was deleted within 30 minutes, leading puzzled Barca fans to wonder as to its meaning.

Koeman has had a tricky time at Barcelona since taking over last year, with indifferent form, attempts to cut the club’s immense wage bill, and the departure of talismanic Argentinian striker Lionel Messi leading to criticism of the former Dutch international defender and Southampton and Everton manager. Indeed, some of the criticism has come from his own players, with Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanic describing Koeman’s management style as “very strange” after he was left out of the Barca team and subsequently sent out on loan to Turkish side Besiktas.

Bafflement over the tweet reached such a pitch (hah!) that athletics website Sportbible even speculated that the video – which featured the arrival of new character Molly Mole – was a coded message to a mole within the club who had been responsible for a series of embarrassing leaks, including the public release of Lionel Messi’s contract.

Bith theories abounding over the meaning of the porcine message, Koeman eventually felt compelled to speak out and reveal the reasoning behind the enigmatic tweet.

“Sometimes the little ones of the family want to make themselves heard via granddad’s social media account,” he tweeted, accompanied by a picture of the Barca boss holding his two grandchildren and the hashtag #peppapig.

We know football is a big industry now, but it is possible to read too much into it.

Have a good weekend, all. ®



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Google extends right-to-be-forgotten to app permissions on older Android devices • The Register

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In December, Google plans to have app runtime permissions expire on older versions of Android for apps that haven’t been opened for several months, extending the availability of a privacy protection feature introduced in Android 11.

“In Android 11, we introduced the permission auto-reset feature,” explained Google software engineers Peter Visontay and Bessie Jiang in a blog post on Friday. “This feature helps protect user privacy by automatically resetting an app’s runtime permissions – which are permissions that display a prompt to the user when requested – if the app isn’t used for a few months.”

That behavior is the default in Android 11 and in Android 12, expected in a few weeks. Come December, it will become the default in older versions of Android that rely on Google Play services, specifically Android 6 (API level 23) through Android 10 (API level 29).

The behavior change is likely to affect about 2bn devices, given that only about 25 per cent of the 3bn active Android devices run Android 11 (API level 30) or greater, and a relatively tiny number run something older than Android 6.

It means that dormant apps will lose access to runtime permissions, also known as “dangerous permissions,” that were previously granted and might pose privacy problems if forgotten. These include permissions like READ_PHONE_NUMBERS, READ_SMS, RECORD_AUDIO, ACCESS_COARSE_LOCATION, CAMERA, and other similar settings that provide access to sensitive data.

Google has anticipated that this might cause problems in some cases, so it will exempt Device Administrator apps and the like that are used by large organizations and have permissions set via enterprise policy.

The Chocolate Factory has also provided a way for developers to request that Android device owners disable permission revocation. The rationale for doing so would be for apps that work mainly in the background – it wouldn’t be ideal, for example, if a child safety app that relies on location data suddenly stopped working.

The Register has asked whether anyone at Google would define “a few months” more precisely or whether the fuzzy time frame was a deliberate attempt to avoid providing a specific value that could be used to game the system. A company spokesperson confirmed it was the latter.

However, Android provides developers running Android 12 with a way to check and set the default permission reset time in milliseconds on their own devices using the Android Debug Bridge (adb) command line tool.

adb shell device_config get permissions auto_revoke_unused_threshold_millis2

Android 12 takes permission revocation further still. It includes a feature called Hibernation that “not only revokes permissions granted previously by the user, but it also force-stops the app and reclaims memory, storage and other temporary resources.”

Hibernating apps can’t run in the background or receive push notifications. This too can be disabled via Settings if necessary.

Google intends to begin a gradual rollout of its permission auto-reset feature in December, on devices with Android 6 through 10 and Google Play Services. Users should be able to access the auto-reset settings page to configure this feature for specific apps. Thereafter, the Android system will start counting down to a permission reset. The rollout is expected to reach all affected devices at some point in Q1 2022. ®

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New Donegal digital hub opens doors to local start-ups and entrepreneurs

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Stranorlar’s new digital hub will provide local workers with hotdesks, reliable internet connectivity, access to local supports and more.

A new digital hub has opened today (17 September) in Stranorlar in Co Donegal. DigiHub at the Base Enterprise Centre aims to support the growth of ICT and digital businesses in Donegal.

The hub will provide the area’s workers, start-ups and entrepreneurs with hotdesk and workspaces on flexible arrangements, as well as office units of various sizes, training facilities and a range of meeting rooms.

The DigiHub was developed as part of the Digiwest programme with funding from the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund and the Connected Hubs Fund, which was launched earlier this year to help promote remote working around the country. The hub is also supported by Donegal County Council and the Western Development Commission.

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The development of digital hubs in rural areas is part of Our Rural Future, the Government’s five-year strategy to revitalise towns and villages, promote remote working and ensure balanced regional development.

Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphries, TD, who launched the new Donegal facility today, said she hoped the hub would entice digital entrepreneurs to move to the Stranorlar area.

“As we phase out restrictions put in place during Covid-19, it’s more relevant than ever to invest in co-working spaces for those who wish to remain in their home counties and avoid long commutes to Dublin and larger cities,” she added.

“The launch of today’s hub in the heart of Stranorlar highlights the appetite for hybrid working in regional Ireland to remain. This fine facility is one of four digital hubs along the western seaboard that received almost €650,000 under my Department’s Rural Regeneration Development Fund.

“All four of these hubs are members of the Connected Hubs initiative, which is the department’s platform of mapping together all of the hubs across the country so that they belong to one single network.”

The Connected Hubs network currently has more than 140 members nationwide.

The Stranorlar hub, which received €67,ooo in funding, will have 23 desks available for short-term and casual hire, while the hub’s offices can accommodate more than 20 tenants. Business units will be made available for permanent hire with the capacity to accommodate an additional 50 tenants.

The hub’s range of supports for start-ups will include one-to-one business mentoring, as well as access to mentoring through a network of support businesses via the Ballybofey and Stranorlar Chamber of Commerce.

It will also provide workers with networking and informal learning opportunities, promotion on its social media channels and it will offer them information on agencies and organisations for assistance.

Internet access, which is a key concern for many remote workers living in rural areas, will be provided by Siro, a joint venture by the ESB and Vodafone to provide homes and businesses with fibre-optic gigabit connectivity.

Siro’s partnership with DigiHub in Stranorlar will bring the total number of remote working hubs around the country using its service to 16.

Kieran Doherty, chair of Basicc, the local social enterprise that manages the Base Enterprise Centre, said: “In order for the area to flourish, we have to be able to connect to any part of the world instantly and gigabit connectivity means that we have the same world-class broadband that is available in international hubs like Tokyo or Singapore.”

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Teenage girls, body image and Instagram’s ‘perfect storm’ | Instagram

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Emily started using Instagram when she was in her mid-teens and found it helpful at first. She used the photo-sharing app to follow fitness influencers, but what began as a constructive relationship with the platform spiralled into a crisis centred on body image. At 19 she was diagnosed with an eating disorder.

“I felt like my body wasn’t good enough, because even though I did go to the gym a lot, my body still never looked like the bodies of these influencers,” says Emily, now a 20-year-old a student who is in recovery.

Emily, who preferred not to use her real name, uses Instagram sparingly now. She is one of many Instagram users whose suffering came to prominence this week with revelations that the platform’s owner, Facebook, seemed to know it was damaging teenage girls’ mental health.

According to internal research leaked to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the app has made body image issues worse for one in three girls and in one Facebook study of teenagers in the UK and the US, more than 40% of Instagram users who said they felt “unattractive” said the feeling began while using the app.

Instagram has more than 1 billion users worldwide and an estimated 30 million in the UK, with Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande among the accounts with hundreds of millions of followers between them. In the UK, the Love Island couple Liam Reardon and Millie Court have already raced to a combined following of nearly 3 million since winning the 2021 title.

Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande has more than 250 million Instagram followers. Photograph: John Shearer/Getty Images for the Recording Academy

Two in five girls (40%) aged 11 to 16 in the UK say they have seen images online that have made them feel insecure or less confident about themselves. This increases to half (50%) in girls aged 17 to 21, according to research by Girlguiding in its annual girls’ attitudes survey.

Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at the department of media and communications, LSE, describes adolescence for teenage girls as an “arc” that tends to begin with the staple experiences of interest in pets, painting or playing with younger siblings, through to the more confident young woman ready to face the world. But it is the experience in the middle of that parabola that represents a particular challenge, and where Instagram can be most troubling.

“It is at that point where they are assailed with many answers to their dilemmas and a prominent answer at the moment is that it might be what they look like, that it matters what they bought,” says Livingstone, who next week is due to give evidence to MPs and peers scrutinising the draft UK online safety bill, which imposes a duty of care on social media companies to protect users from harmful content.

Facebook’s in-depth research into the photo-sharing app stated that Instagram had a deeper effect on teenage girls because it focused more on the body and lifestyle, compared with TikTok’s emphasis on performance videos such as dancing, and Snapchat’s jokey face features. “Social comparison is worse on Instagram,” said the Facebook study. The leaked research pointed to the app’s Explore page, where an algorithm tailors the photos and videos that a user sees, potentially creating a spiral of harmful content.

“Aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm,” said the research.

Livingstone says a key feature of the online safety bill will be its provisions on regulating the algorithms that constantly tailor and tweak what you view according to your perceived needs and tastes – and can push teenage girls into that vortex of esteem-damaging content. “There is a lot to be done about algorithms and AI [artificial intelligence].”

Beeban Kidron, the crossbench peer who sits on the joint committee into the online safety bill and was behind the recent introduction of a children’s privacy code, says Ofcom, the UK communications watchdog, will have a vital role in scrutinising algorithms.

“The value in algorithmic oversight for regulators, is that the decisions that tech companies make will become transparent, including decisions like FB took to allow Instagram to target teenage girls with images and features that ended in anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Algorithmic oversight is the key to society wrestling back some control.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport says the bill will address those concerns. “As part of their duty of care, companies will need to mitigate the risks of their algorithms promoting illegal or harmful content, particularly to children. Ofcom will have a range of powers to ensure they do this, including the ability to request information and enter companies’ premises to access data and equipment.”

Liam Reardon and Millie Court
Liam Reardon and Millie Court have a combined Instagram following of 3 million since winning Love Island 2021. Photograph: Matt Frost/ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

For others, there is a wider issue of educating the young how to navigate a world dominated by social media. Deana Puccio, co-founder of the Rap project, which visits schools across the UK and abroad to discuss issues such as consent, online and offline safety and building confidence in body image and self-esteem, says the bill should be accompanied by a wider education drive.

“We, parents, educators, politicians need to equip our young people with the tools, the analytical skills to make healthy choices for themselves. Because they will get access to whatever they want to. They are better at navigating the online world than we are.”

Puccio adds that teenagers should be encouraged to make their social media posts reflect a more realistic vision of the world. “We need to start building up people’s confidence to post real-life ups and downs.”

The head of Instagram risked fanning criticism of the app on Thursday with comments that compared social media’s impact on society to that of cars. “We know that more people die than would otherwise because of car accidents, but by and large, cars create way more value in the world than they destroy. And I think social media is similar,” said Adam Mosseri.

Facebook referred the Guardian to a blogpost by Karina Newton, the head of public policy at Instagram, who said the internal research showed “our commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues young people may struggle with, and informs all the work we do to help those experiencing these issues”.

The Instagram revelations came as part of a WSJ investigation into Facebook, in which the newspaper revealed that Facebook gives high-profile users special treatment, that changes to its news feed algorithm in 2018 made the platform’s users angrier and more divisive, and that employees had warned Facebook was being used by drug cartels and human traffickers in developing countries.

Responding to the algorithm and drug cartel allegations, Facebook said divisions had existed in society long before its platform appeared and that it had a “comprehensive strategy” for keeping people safe in countries where there was a risk of conflict and violence.

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