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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 is big and beefy, Fortnite gets released for Android devices while an agency is conducting interviews in the free-to-play game, and the EGLX Gaming Expo will be back in Toronto this October. But first, what’s going on with Google tracking people?

Is Google tracking you? It’s complicated, but it shouldn’t be

There’s been lots of talk in the past couple of days about whether Google is tracking you.

An Associated Press story reported that even after users turned off “Location History” in Google Maps, their Android phones still collected information about where they had been.

The problem is a misunderstanding of settings and preferences, and with how software developers create labels for their applications.

“Location History” is a setting for Google Maps. It’s very specific to that application. And it’s a setting that is tied to your Google Account, and can be active across all devices on which you use Google Maps.

You can disable that setting, and Google Maps will no longer record your location or movement.

But other apps have their own settings that may or may not tag your location.

There is a way to disable all of this, though, and that’s through your device settings. The label for that setting is “Location Services” on iOS devices, and “Security & location” on Android devices running 8 (Oreo).

Google told the AP that it was providing, “clear descriptions of these tools, and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time.”

I believe that Google is providing the tools and controls.

I don’t think they are doing a very good job of being clear about any of it, though.

Samsung shows off Galaxy Note 9

In nearly every sense of the word, the Galaxy Note 9 is big.

Big screen (6.4 inches, the largest screen offered in a handset), big battery (4,000 mAh will last a while and Samsung has improved its safety certification processes to avoid a repeat of the Note 7 recall), big storage capacity (128 GB standard, upgradeable to 512 GB, with a microSD slot that can add 512 GB for a total of 1 TB).

Big on features, too.

Samsung unveiled the new premium handset in New York last week, and one of the coolest things that’s been added is Bluetooth connectivity to the S Pen stylus. That means you can use it as a remote shutter when taking a selfie, or to control your presentation deck when you’re at the front of the boardroom.

You can still use the S Pen as a stylus, too, for taking notes or doodling on a picture.

Something else that makes the Note 9 an appealing option for power users is that you don’t need a dock to use it like a computer, you can simply plug it into a monitor and connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

The camera has the same dual-aperture lens that was introduced with the Galaxy S9 Plus and adds a “flaw detection” feature that will notify you if there’s something wrong with the picture you’ve taken so you can get another shot.

The Note 9 is priced at a premium, though. The 128 GB model is $1300 and the 512 GB is $1630.

For comparison, the iPhone X is at $1320 for 64 GB and $1530 for 256 GB.

Pre-ordering the Note 9 before August 23 will get you a pair of Samsung’s Gear IconX wireless earbuds (worth $300 in stores). The handset will be released on August 24.

In Canada, only the 128 GB model will be sold by carriers. It will be available in “Midnight Black” or “Ocean Blue”.

The 256 GB model will be available only from Samsung in “Midnight Blue”, either online at Samsung or in Samsung Experience stores.

Fortnite comes to Android

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Fortnite is one of the most popular games in the world right now.

It’s so popular that it may be causing carpal tunnel syndrome in MLB pitchers.

It’s so popular that players at the World Cup worked into their post-goal celebrations physical moves from the game.

Fortnite’s main game is a battle royale, where a group of up to 100 players are dropped into a map to fight it out until there’s only one left. The hook is that the area progressively shrinks in size, and if you’re outside the zone you take damage and die.

While it’s been playable since last year on game consoles (PS4, Switch, Xbox One), Windows computers, and mobile devices running iOS, it was just last week that Samsung announced a limited exclusive on Android devices.

Other Android users looking to play Fortnite can sign up to be emailed an invitation to download and play.

Fortnite is free to play, but you can spend real money to customize your character. For Cdn$35 you can get 2500 V-Bucks, and the cost-per-buck goes down as you buy more, so $80 will get you 6,000 V-Bucks.

Items, from costumes to tools to emotes cost between 200 and 2000 V-Bucks.

Agency holding job interviews in Fortnite

Fortnite is so popular, that French ad agency Dare.Win is conducting interviews while playing the game.

The six-month internships are based in Paris and agency rep Brouchon told AdAge, “We’d love to meet and welcome some foreign students. The more cultural diversity you have, the stronger you get.”

Dare.Win counts PlayStation among its clients. Others include Netflix, Spotify, Ubisoft, and YouTube.

EGLX Gaming Expo returns to Toronto this fall

Tickets are on sale now for the EGLX Gaming Expo, which takes over the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from October 26 to October 28.

The expo promises dozens of playable games from major publishers and indie developers, as well as art, toy, and collectible vendors. Plus, Toronto Maple Leaf right winger Mitch Marner will be appearing on Sunday, October 28.

Two video game tournaments are also being held at the expo.

The Canada Cup 2018 will feature gamers going head-to-head playing fighting games including Tekken 7, Super Smash Bros, and Street Fighter V.

Also being staged is the Canadian national qualifying finals for the World Electronic Sports Games with a prize pool of Cdn$150,000.

Weekend passes for the EGLX Gaming Expo are only $60 with early bird pricing, and an entire family (two adults, two kids) can get in for $85 a day.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, defining censorship, Facebook and Instagram dashboards, malls stop spying on you, and hands-on with the PS4 exclusive, Marvel’s Spider-Man.

When shutting down an idiot isn’t censorship

Alex Jones and his Infowars are being dropped from a number of social platforms and media aggregators.

No, this is not censorship. Jones is free to spout his nonsense all he wants. Nobody is taking the right away from him.

The thing is, nobody has to listen to him.

And Apple, Facebook, Pinterest, Spotify, YouTube don’t have any obligation to provide him with a platform. Snapchat is said to be monitoring the situation, and in a tweet, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, has explicitly said that Jones “hasn’t violated our rules.”

MailChimp, the customer relationship management (CRM) and newsletter delivery service has also terminated accounts for violating our terms of service.

The InfoWars app is still available in Apple’s App Store and Google Play, though.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t reason for concern, though. What these companies did is not censorship, but Matt Taibbi thinks this is a slippery slope.

Facebook and Instagram hope you’ll manage your own use with new dashboard

As part of its campaign to not lose control of its own destiny, Facebook (and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook) are giving us tools to better manage the amount of time we spend on our devices looking at our feeds.

This is a trend with the tech companies, with Apple, Google, and the rest all taking steps to give you control.

And ultimately this is under your control.

So take it already.

Facial recognition software scrapped in Calgary shopping centres

Cadillac Fairview has stopped using facial recognition software in Calgary’s Chinook Centre and Market Mall.

Two weeks ago a visitor to Chinook Centre posted a photo to Reddit that captured lines of code on a video directory.

The privacy commissioners for Alberta and Canada have both launched investigations into the use of the software.

Hands-on with the new video game Marvel’s Spider-Man

You’ll never have so much fun being a superhero as you will playing Marvel’s Spider-Man, a new video game created for Sony’s PlayStation 4. Releasing on September 7, it was developed by Insomniac Games.

I spent about four hours playing the game during a media event in Los Angeles last month. In that time I progressed through the first couple of hours of the story and spent lots of time just moving through the virtual Manhattan.

It’s difficult to consider any superhero game these days without comparing them to Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series. Those games nailed the Dark Knight’s atmosphere and tone, but more importantly they made you feel, when you were sneaking around and fighting criminals, like you were Batman.
Insomniac has done the same thing here, perfectly capturing the essence of the character of Spider-Man and the city of New York.

Spider-Man’s New York City isn’t Batman’s Gotham. It’s bright and cacophonous. And Spider-Man isn’t Batman. He’s young and sarcastic, eager to please. He moves like a gymnast.

Becoming Spider-Man

So much of what makes Spider-Man is how he moves. Insomniac knew that creating an authentic game required that it be fun to journey through the landscape. “The number one thing to get right is flinging,” admitted creative director Bryan Intihar.

Traversing through New York is central to the game and it is joyful. The system is forgiving enough to prevent any frustration, but you’ve got plenty of control over your movement, and once you get a handle on the options it’s exhilarating to just swing.

The game is designed to keep you moving around, too. In addition to the story missions, this open world experience provides plenty of side missions and collectibles. Completing them gives you tokens that are the currency for upgrading your gadgets, like your web shooters, as well as your outfit.

And the Spidey costume here is different, characterized by a white spider graphic.

There’s a reason for the costume’s white spider

Art director Jacinda Chew was given license to come up with all new character designs.
In an interview, Chew told me that the goal was to keep what made the original designs iconic, modernize the design, and give it a narrative hook.

“The Ditko suits were red and blue with clean lines,” said Chew, speaking about Steve Ditko, the artist and writer who created Spider-Man with Stan Lee. “We modernized it by giving it an athletic shoe instead of a booty,” she explained.

Chew revealed that there is a story-based reason for the novel costume, but she wasn’t willing to give anything more away, simply asking, “Why the white spider?”

Leveraging the Spider-Verse

As much as Marvel’s Spider-Man is familiar, it’s different from other incarnations of the character you’ve seen.

At the media preview, Intihar said that the development team was inspired by writer Brian Michael Bendis and his work on Ultimate Spider-Man, in which he came up with the notion of the “Spider-Verse”. That idea, of how the spider-influenced superhero might be realized in other dimensions, is a tremendous creative engine.

It’s what gave Intihar and his team liberty to come up with an original story, with unique takes on characters and plotlines from the Spider-Man canon.
We’re not burdened with an origin story, either. Lead writer Jon Paquette and his team respect the players by alluding to all that’s gone before without needing to explain every detail. And it’s clear that lots has happened. Peter is not a teenage high-school student in this game, he’s a scientist, having left his college job as a photojournalist behind.

And as much as you play Spider-Man, you also play the game as Peter Parker, trying to make rent, trying to get to appointments on time, and trying to balance being a superhero with being a person.

The characters you expect are all here, although they may be a bit different than what you’re familiar with. J. Jonah Jameson is podcasting. Aunt May works in a social agency. And Mary Jane Watson is an investigative journalist.

Insomniac is letting us play as MJ, too. In the sequence I played she was sneaking around and solving puzzles. It’s another way that the developer is telling the story of Spider-Man, Peter Parker, and all the other characters outside of cutscenes.

The perfect studio for the job

The truth is that Insomniac’s portfolio made them the perfect studio for this game. In Spider-Man, the studio found a franchise that would allow them to use all of the mechanics and gameplay elements they’ve become expert at.

The world building and traversal mechanics from Sunset Overdrive are at the core of this new game. The gadgets and weapons from Ratchet & Clank are found in the way you can upgrade Spidey’s arsenal and abilities. The mature and complex characters and storytelling developed while making the Resistance games are also here.

Insomniac’s take on the webhead is refined and original. At once familiar and unique, Marvel’s Spider-Man is a blast.

Spider-Man themed PS4 Pro

Marvel’s Spider-Man is a key release for Sony this fall, and to capitalize on the excitement, the company is releasing a special edition PS4 Pro in red with the white spider logo on it.

The bundle, which includes a copy of the game, is priced at Cdn$500. The PS4 Pro is PlayStation’s premium console that delivers 4K and HDR gaming. For those with a 4K HDR TV, that is.

You can preorder it now.

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Categories Consumer technology |

This week, Apple’s revenues pushed the stock price high enough that the company is almost worth a trillion dollars. Plus, Calgary malls are using facial recognition software to track the movement of visitors. and 3D printers can be used to make firearms. But first, Facebook has taken some accounts offline for being “inauthentic”.

“Inauthentic” Facebook accounts taken offline

This week, Facebook pulled the pages of 32 accounts. The company was careful not to claim the accounts were trying to influence the U.S. midterm elections with disinformation, however, saying instead that they were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior.

Unlike the obvious activity of the Russia-based Internet Research Agency leading up to the 2016 U.S. federal election, Facebook said it could not definitively identify the people or organizations behind the Facebook and Instagram accounts, in part “due to changes we’ve made over the last year to make this kind of abuse much harder”.

Former Facebook advisor Dipayan Ghosh told NPR that he believes the accounts were controlled by Russian influencers.

Ghosh also said he believes that the 32 accounts are a “drop in the bucket”.

What it means to be able to use 3D printers to make weapons

Defense Distributed, a Texas based company, wants to publish online gun frame blueprints that can be used with 3D printers. They’ve been blocked this week by judges who don’t want the plans to be available outside the U.S.

The truth is, such blueprints are already readily available. Since 3D printers have been available, the plans to print gun frames and gun parts have been available, too.

And, as Kyle Mizokami wrote in Popular Mechanics, it’s easier to purchase actual parts to build a gun than it is to print the parts out of plastic with a semi-reliable printer.

Calgary malls using facial recognition to track shoppers

Technically, no law is being broken. But if you live in Calgary and you’ve been to Chinook Centre or Market Mall, you’ve been tagged by facial recognition software.

In fact, it’s likely that malls across Canada are all doing it.

Because the mall owner, Cadillac Fairview, claims to not be “capturing or retaining images” they are not violating any privacy laws.

A spokesperson for the company told CBC that the software is only used to tag the gender and approximate age of people in the mall.

The software was captured running in the digital map kiosk at Chinook Centre.

While the use of the software might not be overtly violating any laws, the ethics of not explicitly notifying customers they are being watched is questionable.

Apple on the verge of being a trillionaire

Apple made more than US$50 billion in the last quarter. It’s projecting some $60 billion for the next one, which is a more than 15 percent bump over the last Q4.

Despite the concerns of some about the saturation of iPhones, Apple sold a few more than last year. The premium price on models like the iPhone X helped contribute to the booming revenues.

All of that success puts the company’s market valuation at $935 billion.

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