US agency releases privacy ‘best practices’ for drone use

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration released Thursday a list of voluntary privacy best practices for commercial and non-commercial drone users, in the wake of concerns that drones could encroach on individual privacy and open a new front in the collection of personal data for commercial use.

The privacy guidance, arrived at in consensus with drone organizations and companies like Amazon and Google’s parent Alphabet, recommends that drone operators who collect personal data should have a privacy policy that explains what personally identifiable information they will collect, for what purpose the data is collected and if it will be shared with others, including in response to requests from law enforcement agencies.

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How Facebook wants to change the way you work

How Facebook wants to change the way you work

Introduction and danger of distraction

Enterprise software is, by and large, quite dull. Microsoft Office, a long-standing fixture in almost every workplace, has not changed much in design – bar a few tweaks around the edges – since it launched over a decade ago. Others remain much the same, too.

Newer companies, like Slack or HipChat, have brought some colour and life to the office, but only focus on one very specific aspect – instant interaction – that does not permeate much beyond a specific type of employee or workplace.

Facebook wants to alter all of that and the way the company is doing it could, in a few years, change how you work.

Huge engagement

The project, called Facebook at Work, is still in its early stages but, according to several people we spoke to at different companies, engagement with it by everyday employees – i.e. people outside the IT department – is off the scale.

The Royal Bank of Scotland, which was one of the first companies to trial the software on a large scale, saw over 90% of its users return to Facebook at Work, according to Kevin Hanley, who leads design at the bank.

"I think Facebook lets us communicate, discuss and solve problems that other solutions, such as email, simply can't," he said in an interview last year. "We love the fact that Facebook at Work gives you the ability to opt-in to forums and groups you want to be part of rather than being on the receiving end of email distribution lists that you want to opt out of."

Song remains the same

The basis of Facebook at Work is, like Facebook at Home, the news feed, messaging, groups, photos, and everything else you'd expect. The layout – news feed in the centre, blue bar at the top, and so on – is largely the same, albeit with a few minor changes.

This, Hanley said, was why people are engaged with it: unlike Office, email, or any other application, people already use Facebook. According to the company's most recent earnings report, the average user spends around 50 minutes per day on the social network.

"You would almost struggle to tell the difference between Facebook at Work and at Home," Hanley said. "That is a very specific intent. What you would recognise as Facebook in your personal life is what you'd recognise at work."

That kind of engagement is unprecedented and gives Facebook a massive springboard from which to build out other applications for different environments, like the workplace.

Danger of distraction

Of course, the fact people are already into Facebook can be a downside. "The biggest challenge for us is taking it from the social 'fun' experience to doing actual work on it," said Ben Sand, VP of operations at Kenshoo, in an interview earlier this year. "I would be lying if I said that we were not struggling with that even today."

Other companies we spoke to had similar problems, with employees spending time scrolling through the news feed rather than doing work. One person, who asked to remain anonymous because Facebook at Work is still in the testing stage, said the software can be "distracting because there is always something new to look at."

However, this may not be such a problem as the news feed is filled with work stuff, from pictures of products to statuses from your boss to messages from colleagues. Rather than scrolling through BuzzFeed, which is unlikely to have any work-related content, users are at least looking at semi-relevant updates.

Email eradication and security

Email eradication

One of the things that Facebook at Work does eliminate is email, which is the bane of many people's lives. According to Hanley, "[e]mail, in our experience, is hierarchical [and] tends to be used for broadcasting, for cascading information [rather than] for discussion or feedback."

The weaknesses of email have driven the rise of Slack

As everyone knows, email sucks for every task that doesn't need to be documented forever and this has driven the rise of Slack, among other messaging apps, because they work just like the apps people use in their everyday lives.

On this point, Facebook also has an advantage in Messenger, which has over 900 million monthly active users, up from 400 million two years ago. The software bundled with Facebook at Work is just like Messenger because, well, it is Messenger, just with colleagues rather than friends or your mum.

"It's a different way of using Facebook," said Jayenne Montana, a marketing manager at Landmark Group. "It's a great boost to communication and productivity."

Facebook the company has recently been on a streak. The last earnings report, which captured the three months leading up to April, sent the stock soaring as the company reported 1.6 billion monthly active users, almost all of which are on mobile.

The company's other properties, like Instagram, are also growing rapidly, although it's unclear if Facebook at Work will ever get the benefit of breakfast-time photos.

Security reassurances

The social network has also released a white paper which aims to reassure businesses that Facebook at Work is safe to use in terms of security.

The document, which covers everything anyone could want to know, shows the level of commitment which has been put into getting Facebook at Work off the ground. This isn't just a side-project, it's something that is at the core of what Facebook does.

"We have dozens of teams working around the clock to keep your information safe," the company says. "Your connection to Facebook is protected with the same kind of strong encryption technology that banks use to keep financial data secure."

Adoption of the platform, which has been available for a little under a year, is accelerating as more and more companies try it out, according to one person at Facebook, who requested anonymity because the details are not public. It's unclear how many will stay, but users are definitely enjoying it.

As Val-Pierre Genton, VP of Audience at BrightTALK, commented, Facebook at Work "makes our global teams feel more united and closer," and that's all the company wants.

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Microsoft has a Bing bot of its own in the works

Microsoft has a Bing bot of its own in the works

Chatbots have hit the big time. These computer plug-ins - powered by AI but designed to chat like humans - are making their way across Facebook and Google and adding a new layer to the digital assistant apps we've all got used to.

Now it looks like Microsoft is building a 'Bing Concierge Bot' designed to offer help and assistance wherever you need it, across a multitude of apps (from Skype to WhatsApp), the details of which were leaked in a job posting picked up by ZDNet.

Microsoft already has Cortana, of course, but the new bot will live inside messaging apps to serve your every need. The job listing gives the example of making a restaurant booking via the bot rather than using a separate app like some kind of technology philistine.

Some like it bot

Microsoft declined to comment on the story but already has a bot framework in place that enables developers to build these kind of tools. It looks like the company wants a bot of its own too, powered by Bing and third-party plug-ins.

Like Google Assistant and Facebook M, much will depend on how slick the external integrations are (with restaurants, cinemas, taxi firms and so on). They're referred to as "service providers" in the job posting put up by Microsoft.

"The agent does what a human assistant would do," reads the listing. "It runs errands on behalf of the user, by automatically completing tasks for the user. The users talk to the agent in natural language, and the agent responds in natural language to collect all the information; once ready, it automatically performs the task for the user."

Would a 'shock clock' get you up earlier in the morning?

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Sorry, your current phone won’t support Android N’s seamless updates

Sorry, your current phone won't support Android N's seamless updates

Among the many Android N features revealed at Google IO was the promise of seamless updates, allowing your device to install updates in the background without rendering it temporarily unusable, but this is one feature that isn't likely to arrive on any current hardware.

Speaking to Google, Android Police learned that while it would technically be possible to achieve on some current handsets, such as the Nexus 5X or Nexus 6P, it would mean repartitioning the entire phone, so that there were two partitions live at once - one to download and install updates onto and the other to continue using the phone from.

But repartitioning isn't easy - it would require hooking your handset up to a computer and, more worryingly, risks breaking your phone or losing data - so it's both hassle and, frankly, not worth the risk from Google's perspective.

New phone needed

It's possible that some enterprising users will develop tools to make it work, but if so they will likely be entirely unofficial and used entirely at your own risk. Otherwise, if you really can't bear to look at another "Android is updating" screen, you'll to have to buy a phone that runs Android N or above out of the box, the first of which will likely be the new Nexus devices we're expecting later this year.

Everyone else will just have to continue finding ways to fill that phoneless time. We'd suggest using it to learn something new, but without our Duolingo and Skillshare apps we'd probably just end up staring into the abyss until our phone works again.

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