It is early July, almost 30C outside, but Mihkel Jäätma is thinking about Christmas. In a co-working space in Soho, the 39-year-old founder and CEO of Realeyes, an "emotion AI" startup which uses eye-tracking and facial expression to analyse mood, scrolls through a list of 20 festive ads from 2018. He settles on The Boy and the Piano, the offering from John Lewis that tells the life story of Elton John backwards, from megastardom to the gift of a piano from his parents as a child, accompanied by his timeless heartstring-puller Your Song. The ad was well received, but Jäätma is clearly unconvinced. He hits play, and the ad starts, but this time two lines – one grey (negative reactions), the other red (positive) – are traced across the action.
Tech giant Google is facing a demand from hundreds of employees for an assurance that it will not bid on a government cloud computing contract that could be used to enforce US immigration policies on the southern border. A group of employees called Googlers for Human Rights posted a public petition overnight Thursday urging the company to resist tendering for a US Customs and Border Protection or Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract. It is not clear if Google or its parent Alphabet has already applied – the application deadline was 1 August – but the tech giant has previously drawn employee protests after signing cloud-computing or data storage deals with the government. The company confirmed in March 2018 that it was involved with Project Maven, a $250m Department of Defense artificial intelligence initiative designed to provide 3D mapping that could be used for improved drone-strike battlefield accuracy. Over 3,000 Google employees signed a petition in protest against the company's involvement.
Privacy campaigners have warned of an "epidemic" of facial recognition use in shopping centres, museums, conference centres and other private spaces around the UK. An investigation by Big Brother Watch (BBW), which tracks the use of surveillance, has found that private companies are spearheading a rollout of the controversial technology. The group published its findings a day after the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, announced she was opening an investigation into the use of facial recognition in a major new shopping development in central London. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has already raised questions about the legality of the use of facial recognition at the 27-hectare (67-acre) Granary Square site in King's Cross after its owners admitted using the technology "in the interests of public safety". BBW said it had uncovered that sites across the country were using facial recognition, often without warning visitors.
Facebook has become the latest company to admit that human contractors listened to recordings of users without their knowledge, a practice the company now says has been "paused". Citing contractors who worked on the project, Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday that the company hired people to listen to audio conversations carried out on Facebook Messenger. The practice involved users who had opted in Messenger to have their voice chats transcribed, the company said. The contractors were tasked with re-transcribing the conversations in order to gauge the accuracy of the automatic transcription tool. "Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago," a Facebook spokesperson told the Guardian.
The mayor of London has written to the owner of the King's Cross development demanding to know whether the company believes its use of facial recognition software in its CCTV systems is legal. Sadiq Khan said he wanted to express his concern a day after the property company behind the 27-hectare (67-acre) central London site admitted it was using the technology "in the interests of public safety". In his letter, shared with the Guardian, the Labour mayor writes to Robert Evans, the chief executive of the King's Cross development, to "request more information about exactly how this technology is being used". Khan also asks for "reassurance that you have been liaising with government ministers and the Information Commissioner's Office to ensure its use is fully compliant with the law as it stands". The owner of King's Cross is one of the first property companies to acknowledge it is deploying facial recognition software, even though it has been criticised by human rights group Liberty as "a disturbing expansion of mass surveillance".
Members of the public have said there is no justification for the use of facial recognition technology in CCTV systems operated by a private developer at a 67-acre site in central London. It emerged on Monday that the property developer Argent was using the cameras "in the interests of public safety" in King's Cross, mostly north of the railway station across an area including the Google headquarters and the Central Saint Martins art school, but the precise uses of the technology remained unclear. "For law enforcement purposes, there is some justification, but personally I don't think a private developer has the right to have that in a public place," said Grant Otto, who lives in London. He questioned possible legal issues around the collection of facial data by a private entity and said he was unaware of any protections that would allow people to request their information be removed from a database, with similar rights as those enshrined in GDPR. Jack Ramsey, a tourist from New Zealand, echoed his concerns.
The UK's privacy regulator said it is studying the use of controversial facial recognition technology by property companies amid concerns that its use in CCTV systems at the King's Cross development in central London may not be legal. The Information Commissioner's Office warned businesses using the surveillance technology that they needed to demonstrate its use was "strictly necessary and proportionate" and had a clear basis in law. The data protection regulator added it was "currently looking at the use of facial recognition technology" by the private sector and warned it would "consider taking action where we find non-compliance with the law". On Monday, the owners of the King's Cross site confirmed that facial recognition software was used around the 67-acre, 50-building site "in the interest of public safety and to ensure that everyone who visits has the best possible experience". It is one of the first landowners or property companies in Britain to acknowledge deploying the software, described by a human rights pressure group as "authoritarian", partly because it captures images of people without their consent.
Get ready to say: "Hey Google. How much do I have in my bank account?" NatWest is to begin voice-only banking that will give customers direct access to their accounts by talking to the Google Home smart speakers now in millions of British homes. The trial – the first by a UK high street bank – will let customers ask Google "What's my balance?", "What's my latest transactions?" Google devices will answer verbally, and also flash the answers up on the customer's smartphone.
There's a new, cheaper way to buy a Sonos wifi speaker and it's from Ikea. The Symfonisk bookshelf speaker is the second of two new products born of a partnership between the Swedish furniture manufacturer Ikea and the American premium multiroom audio specialists Sonos. Together with the five-star Symfonisk table lamp, the new bookshelf speaker – the size of two hardback books – takes Ikea's design knowledge and slaps Sonos's best-in-class wifi speaker platform into it. The result is a new, lower-priced entry point into the Sonos ecosystem costing just £99 and undercutting the Sonos Play:1 by £50. Where the table lamp is more obviously a piece of furniture, the bookshelf speaker is a more traditional audio product, at least on the surface.