Apps

Facebook acquires face-swapping app MSQRD

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Facebook is taking steps to keep up with Snapchat by buying Masquerade, the Belarus-based startup that built face-swapping app MSQRD. A few months back, Snapchat quietly acquired Looksery, and launched Lenses, a similar product built into Snapchat’s interface, that has since allowed users to add animated effects to their selfies.

While other selfie-enhancing apps like Perfect365 let you alter photos, MSQRD allows users to add live video filters, with effects ranging from a gorilla’s face to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar-winning moment.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the acquisition by posting a MSQRD video of himself using an Iron Man filter.

Taking a break from coding to welcome the MSQRD team to Facebook!

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday, March 9, 2016

“Now, we’re excited to join forces with Facebook and bring the technology to even more people. Within Facebook, we’re going to be able to reach people at a scale like never before,” Masquerade said in a blog post.

An exact rollout date has yet to be revealed, but expect live filters to appear on the Facebook app soon.

MSQRD will continue to be available as a standalone app on the App Store and the Google Play Store.

facebook-msqrd-snapchat-20160310-02

MSQRD lets you add live face-swapping filters to your photos and videos.

This is not Facebook’s first attempt at going head to head with Snapchat. The social networking giant previously tried to acquire Snapchat for $3 billion in cash but was turned down.

It also launched Snapchat clones Poke (in 2012) and Slingshot (2014) that allowed users to share short-lived photos and videos with one another. Both apps have since been deleted on the App Store and Google Play Store.

Is this the beginning of Snapchat’s end? Or is Facebook about to face its greatest fear and become a ghost town?

[irp posts=”12138″ name=”How to take the perfect selfie”]

Apps

Twitter is probing its AI’s racial bias in picture previews

They’re working on improving it

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Twitter uses a neural network to show you relevant previews of all the pictures that are posted on the microblogging platform. If the image contains text, the area is prioritized for a preview. Similarly, human faces are also given preference.

The preview makes it easier for the viewer to get a gist of the tweet without the compulsion of opening the entire picture. Although, the feature isn’t up-to mark since a lot of users have complained about the AI’s racial bias.

Several users posted a picture that has both, a white man and a black man’s face. But the preview often shows the white man’s face only. Users noticed the difference after a similar anomaly was observed on Zoom, where the facial recognition technology failed to identify a black man’s face, but had no trouble when the skin tone was changed.

 

Liz Kelley from Twitter’s communication team said they had tested the neural system for bias, but didn’t come across gender or racial bias during testing. She also confirmed that they’ve got more analysis to do and shall be open-sourcing all the work for others to review and replicate.

Twitter’s Chief Design Officer Dantley Davis and Chief Technology Officer Parag Agrawal were quick to acknowledge the shortcoming and said they’re “investigating” the neural network.

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Apps

TikTok and WeChat will be banned from app stores in the US

So, did the Oracle deal go through?

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After months of escalating, the US Commerce Department has announced it’ll ban business transactions with TikTok and WeChat. The two apps are owned by Chinese giants ByteDance and Tencent, respectively.

Practically, you won’t be able to directly download the app via stores like Play Store and App Store. Furthermore, companies are also barred from hosting these apps in the US. Essentially, the user won’t be able to download the app from third-party websites that are hosted in the US.

It also blocks US companies from providing services through WeChat “for the purpose of transferring funds or processing payments within the U.S.”

However, it remains unclear whether the announcement means the Oracle-TikTok deal won’t be going through. The Trump administration wanted ByteDance to sell its local TikTok operations to an American company.

In the last few months, multiple American giants like Walmart, Twitter, and Microsoft were interested in getting their piece of TikTok. But things haven’t moved smoothly and the Chinese government isn’t keen on handing over TikTok’s algorithm to an American company.

While Oracle has been chosen for a deal with ByteDance, the latter continues to maintain that the ongoing process isn’t an acquisition and Oracle shall be a technology partner. This is in stark contrast to what President Trump envisions as a business takeover.

The app ban could be a tactic to pressure the Chinese, but we can’t be certain of that right now. Going by the latest statements, it’s clear that the administration wants to completely block user’s access to these apps and is willing to go the extra mile.

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Google removes one of India’s top payments app for violating policy

But there’s nothing to worry about

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Google removed one of India’s top payments app Paytm from the Play Store for allegedly violating guidelines. To be more precise, the app violated the app store’s policy by promoting gambling. The app is still available on Apple’s App Store though.

In response, Google said, “The app was blocked for violation of play policies – a clarification of our policy was released earlier today ahead of the IPL tournament.” It further clarified that users aren’t affected and only the app’s availability from the Play Store has changed.

Google strictly prohibits digital casinos or ungoverned gambling apps on its Play Store in India and Paytm’s app was found in violation of this policy. Recently, it launched a fantasy sports service called Paytm First Games and embedded links to this service within the Paytm app.

The standalone Paytm First Games app has also been removed. However, other apps like Paytm Mall, Paytm Money, and Paytm Business are still available and remain untouched. Google said the developer is always notified and the app shall remain unavailable till it complies with the norms.

Paytm has also assured all users that their accounts, wallets, and bank accounts are safe and there’s nothing to worry about. When the news broke, there was some initial panic because the memories of India’s app ban are still fresh and people are worried about their favorite apps going off the shelf instantaneously.

Fantasy sports games and other gambling apps have radically risen in India. The country loves cricket and the Indian Premier League is scheduled to start from tomorrow. Making the coming weeks a very lucrative period for these apps.

All these apps do not depend on Google’s Play Store for distribution and have to be downloaded externally via the developer’s website.

Paytm is hugely credited for encouraging India’s digital economy and has transformed itself into a super app. Besides bill payments and peer-to-peer fund transfer, the app can also be used for tickets, shopping, and entertainment.

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