AT&T Is Buying Time Warner Because the Future is Google

Telecommunications companies are becoming media companies. That explains AT&T’s agreementto buy Time Warner for $85.4 billion.But something else explainsit, too.

Media companies are becoming telecoms.

Internet firmslike Google and Facebook and Amazon and Netflix are the new media companies. They deliver enormousamounts of video online, posing a direct threat to old-school televisionand movie companies. But they also are becomingtelecoms, threatening the likes of AT&T and Verizon.

They finance undersea cables that link their data centers. They buy fiber optic infrastructure. Facebook buildsopen source telco gear,Googleoffershigh-speed Internet service,Amazonhopes to become an Internet service providerin Europe.

As this happens, telecoms must fight back. And this means challenging tech giants on the media front.

The proposed AT&T/Time Warner deal combinestwo powerhouses.AT&T is the nation’s largest pay TV provider, the second-largest wireless provider, and the third-largest home Internet provider.

Time Warner owns a dizzying array of media properties, including HBO, CNN, Warner Brothers, DC Comics, TBS, TNT, the Cartoon Network and broadcast rights to many live sporting events. But it does not own Time Warner Cable, a separate entity that the cable company Charter Communications bought earlier this year.

The deal confirmed todayfollow’s Comcast’s merger with NBC in 2011 and Verizon’s acquisition of AOL last year and planned acquisition of Yahoo this year.

Pundits quickly notedthat divinginto the content industry could be AT&T’s attempt to fill the hole that is createdas customers ditch cable TV in favor of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube. That’s true, but another shift is happening, too.

For years, the big telecom Internet providers essentially operated as dumb pipes. All they did was deliver content. That used to make a lot of sense. A decade ago, the dotcom crash was stilla recent memory, and digital piracy threatened to undercut the entire entertainment industry.

How things have changed. AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have watched Amazon, Facebook, and Google take their place among the world’s most valuable—and powerful—companies, using infrastructure owned by the telcos. The entertainment industry rebounded as well, with upstarts like Netflix having reinvented the very idea of television.

What’s more, those same tech companies have increasingly encroached on the telco’s business.They threaten to upend telecommunications much like they’ve upended other industries, aided by the Federal Communications Commission making more of the wireless spectrum available to them.

Google in particular is eager to access more of the spectrum. And it has a few other projects going that could further undermine traditional telcos. Although Google Fiber and the companies wild schemes to use balloons and drones to deliver Internet access to remote areas garner a lot of attention, two other projects promise to be more radical.

The wireless Google Fi service essentially resells T-Mobile and Sprint’s service. Android phones candiscern which carrier offers the strongest signal in any given location, allowing you to move seamlessly betweenWi-Fi and the two carriers depending on signal strength. Apple is among the companies that may bedevelopingsimilar technology.

This could lead to a situation in which your carrier is essentially invisible, and you’re paying Google (or another broker) to connect you to the network with the strongest signal. That could be a national carrier, or a local Wi-Fi provider.

Google Station, an effort to provide a unified system for logging into and paying for Wi-Fi aroundthe world, fits neatlyinto the vision as well.

Put the pieces together and you begin to see afuture in which tech companies have commoditized telcos in much the same way they commoditized computer hardware. Telcos, using cheap, off-the-shelf hardware powered by open source designs, could compete to sell bandwidth to the Googles and Amazons of the world at razor thin margins.

AT&T probably isn’t thinking about this right now. Like the pundits say, it probably cares more about short-term gains like papering over any potential losses fromcord cutting. Nor is any of this to say that the merger will be good for AT&T, let alone the public.

Robert McChesney, a communication professor at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign, says these kindsof mega-mergers rarely benefitthe public. “This is a merger that will make no sense,” he says. “There’s no reason this merger should be done for consumers or workers.”

These sortsof deals rarely pan out for the companies involved. New York University economics professor Nicholas S. Economides notesthat AT&T’s has a checkered history ofacquisitions. For example, it boughtbusiness technology company NCR in 1991 for $7.4 billion, only to spin spin it off six years laterfor $3.4 billion. And who could forget Time Warner’s disastrous $165 billion1 acquisition of AOL in 2000, which it unloadedin 2009 for $2.5 billion.

If regulators approve theAT&T and Time Warner merger, their blessing almost certainly will include stipulations barringit from, say, refusing to license its movies, television stations and other content to competitors like Comcast. That could make it hard to justify soexpensive an acquisition.

But in a world where Internet access is a commodity, not a government-supported monopoly, owning a giant media company begins to make sense.

1Correction 10/23/2016 at 11:30 AM ET: An earlier version of this story said that Time Warner acquired AOL for $165 million. It was $165 billion.

Correction 10/23/2016 at 1:04 PM ET: An earlier version used an incorrect logo for Time Warner.

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Thai junta asks Google and YouTube to remove royal ‘insults’

Google says governments can request content removal, though material likely to breach lse-majest laws is still online

Thailand has sent a high-level delegation to meet Google to push the company to remove any content that defames the royal family, a criminal offence in the south-east Asian country.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on 13 October, aged 88, after seven decades on the throne. At a time of focused discussion on royal affairs, lse-majest laws mean people deemed to have offended the monarchy can face years in jail.

The deputy prime minister said he met Google representatives in Bangkok on Friday and added that the company affirmed it would help the government remove videos from YouTube, a Google subsidiary.

If any website is inappropriate they said to get in touch with them and inform them of the URL and the time the content was found, Prajin Juntong told journalists.

Google said this conformed with its global practices. We have always had clear and consistent policies for removal requests from governments around the world. We have not changed those policies in Thailand, the company said in a statement emailed to the Guardian.

We rely on governments around the world to notify us of content that they believe is illegal through official processes, and will restrict it as appropriate after a thorough review.

Googles terms of service say it may remove or refuse to display content it reasonably believe[s] violates the law, providing the company with a measure of control.

Sensitivity around the reputation of the monarchy is at an all-time high in Thailand and the government has been under pressure from ultra-royalists to show it is upholding the reputation of the monarchy.

Authorities have announced a 30-day mourning period during which people are expected to wear black or dark clothing.

Companies have also sought to show solidarity with national anguish and Google and YouTube in Thailand have changed their online logos to black.

Oliver Holmes (@olireports)

Google in Thailand today.

October 14, 2016

The visit by senior officials to Google will be seen as an attempt to publicly appease people who want a renewed crackdown on royal defamation.

However, Google and YouTube searches on Monday appeared to still show online content available that is likely to be in violation of lse-majest laws.

Google did not provide the Guardian with specific examples of content removed in Thailand but pointed to its transparency report, a quarterly statement on requests from courts and government to remove content. The latest examples are for 2015.

Rights groups have criticised the countrys lse-majest laws.

Last week, the justice minister said Thai people should socially sanction those who defame the monarchy. A Thai woman accused of insulting the late king on social media was forced to kneel before his portrait outside a police station in front of jeering crowds.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Google will begin shipping Pixel smartphones in India starting tomorrow


Google wont make the worlds fastest growing smartphone market wait for long to get its hands on the new Pixel and Pixel flagship smartphones. This is a stark deviation from the general norm that sees companies take weeks and sometimes months in bringing their top smartphones to India.

Google announced today that stores across Indian cities will start selling the Pixel and Pixel XL starting Tuesday. This is a welcome move for many in the country who were hoping to grab the smartphone ahead of the Diwali festival later this month. Google unveiled the Pixel smartphones earlier this month.

Flipkart, Google Indias online seller partner for Pixel smartphones, has also informed customers who had pre-ordered that it will begin shipping their smartphones starting tomorrow. A Google India spokesperson said that Flipkart is shipping some inventory starting today, though the general availability is Tuesday.

The Android maker is leaving no stones unturned for what its calling first “Made by Google” phones. Earlier this month, Google said it had partnered with HTC India for after sales support of Pixel smartphones in the country.

Google says it will also offer support for Pixel smartphones at 56 HTC India walk-in service centres in more than 30 cities in India. The company will also offer a toll free phone support service at 18004190655 in India. The number will be functional all days of the week between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm (local time).

The Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones are available to purchase from Flipkart and over 1,000 retail stores in India including retail chains like Reliance Digital, Croma and Vijay Sales. Experts and users alike across the world have nice things to say about the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones.

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Woah, Googles AI Is Really Good at Pictionary

For Google, it’s not enough that its products rely onmachine learning and artificial intelligence. The company also wantsyou, its customer, to understand how these technologies work.

Last year, a few months after it open sourced its deep learning engine, a Google researcher partnered withThe New York Times to create this data visualization explaining neural networks. Now, Google has rolled out AI Experiments, an online collection of tools and games designedto help you understandthe inner workings of machine learning.


Take the game,Quick, Draw!Itworks like Pictionary; the game gives you 20 seconds to draw an object on screen, and Google shouts out guesses as the time ticks down. And Google is good. It asked me to draw camouflage, a microwave, a hexagon, an umbrella, a baseball, and a crocodile, and the neural net guessed correctly every time.

But the games accuracy, while impressive, isn’t what makes it a powerful learning tool. Its how, by observing the way Google responds to your doodling, you can get a better sense of how its technology works.

Here’s what happens whenthe gametells me to draw a tree: I start by sketchingleaves. In its robotic voice, Google guesses: “squiggle.” As I add more leaves, it sees a bush. Finally, I draw thetrunk—and it clicks. Google’s neural net says: “Oh, I know, it’s a tree.” (After the fact, you can scroll through other players’ tree drawings to see what illustrations Google has used to inform its guesses.)

Similarly, when the game promptsme to draw a donut, I start by drawing a circle with a smaller circle in the middle. Googlehesitates, unsure what I’mgoing for. But when I add frosting and sprinkles,the game gets it. The lesson:To understand the whole, neural networks need pieces of data that not only connect but build on one another, piece by piece.

Of course, AI Experiments isnt just a free education for neural network nitwits. Every interaction, be itwith Quick, Draw! or one of theother applets in thisvirtual playground, improvesGoogles ability to more nimbly recognize images and language. That makes the companys products stronger, but it also services users. The data fuels apps like Google Photos, which uses AI to swiftly organize all your pictures. Its a system of give and take—and with games like Quick, Draw!, its fun, too.

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Google debuts a new spin on an old boredom-killer

Image: google/screengrab

Back in the Stone Age, before we were all completely plugged in and focused on our gadgets at all times (you know, like, 2002), people would get … bored.

Of course, everyone still finds themselves bogged down by dull moments throughout the day, even with the brightly-lit screens of their devices jockeying for attention.

Google, one of the biggest boredom fighters known to man, just dropped a brand new distraction to keep us all occupied. And it’s based on one of the all-time classic time-killing activities: doodling.

Quick, Draw!, which is just one of the features in Google’s new A.I. Experiments initiative, gives players a favorite new mindless activity in exchange for training its machine-learning tech systems. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

The concept is simple and akin Draw Something with AI. After entering the portal, the computer prompts players to sketch an object on a 20-second clock using the mouse or touchscreen. While the player doodles, the neural network throws out its best guesses of the subject, stopping mid-sketch if it’s correct.

I gave it a try on a desktop and my iPhone. It’s a fun time. But I have to admit, I’m not very good at it.

The Quick, Draw! game played on an iPhone.

Image: Google/screengrab

My first time playing on the computer, I got a measly three out of six (see above). My iPhone trial went a bit better, but that’s probably because the objects were fairly simple.

Maybe the most interesting feature of Quick, Draw! is the insight players can gain about how the network works. After a completed game, just select one of the drawings and you’ll see two sets of results. Let’s use my pathetic attempt at a sleeping bag as an example.

First, you see what kind of object the computer thought you were going for from its previous user-accrued data.

Pictured: not a sleeping bag.

Image: google/screengrab

Scroll down and you’ll see the images that trained the neural network to recognize that object.

Pictured: clearly much better examples of sleeping bags.

Image: google/screengrab

At the end of the game, Google’s AI Experiment receives some new data, and the player learns that his or her dreams of becoming a computer sketch artist should best be left to die. All in all, not a bad way to beat off boredom.

BONUS: Google Home answers the mind-boggling questions Google uses in job interviews

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Google issues ‘digital death penalty’ for Pixel buyers who used tax loophole

Rick Osterloh, Google senior vice president of hardware, introduces the new Google Pixel phone during a product event in San Francisco.
Image: Associated press/Eric Risberg

Google has suspended hundreds of accounts owned by people who took part in a smartphone resale scheme designed to exploit a loophole in sales tax law.

The banned accounts had apparently all ordered Google Pixel phones to be shipped to a single address in New Hampshire, a state with no sales tax. From there, a vendor resold the phones and then split the tax-free profits with participating users.

Google said the coordinated operation was a violation of its purchase terms, which ban any commercial resale of its hardware.

The company’s crackdown was first reported by the cost-cutting tips blog Dan’s Deals, after site owner Daniel Eleff heard from many of the users affected.

More than 200 people were reportedly locked out of their accounts when his initial article was published.

Instead of just banning the users from Google’s online store, the company shut them out of all of the services under the search engine’s umbrella, including saved photos, documents and email.

“Im not defending those who violated the terms of the sale,” Eleff wrote, “but I do think it is heavy-handed for Google to block access to all of their services for doing so.”

“Was violating Googles phone resale policy really worthy of an effective digital death penalty?”

A Google spokesperson said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the company took action after it noticed an unusual number of phones being directed to a single address.

The company claims that many people seemed to be creating fake shell accounts for the sole purpose of the scheme, and it is now in the process of unlocking those that it deems to be legitimate.

“We prohibit the commercial resale of devices purchased through Project Fi or the Google Store so everyone has an equal opportunity to purchase devices at a fair price,” the company said in a statement. ” After investigating the situation, we are restoring access to genuine accounts for customers who are locked out of many Google services they rely on.”

The New Hampshire reseller responsible for setting up the deal has organized similar arrangements involving Google products in the past without any penalty, Eleff said.

Eleff told Mashable in an email that he has yet to hear from any users who’ve had their account restored.

He still thinks the punishment was unnecessarily harsh.

“Shutting off all Google Services seems draconian to me and blocking access to past data, which is supposed to be owned by the user, is just beyond the pale,” Eleff said. “The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime.”

As a growing portion of people’s online lives are consolidated onto a handful of platforms owned by major corporations, wielding this kind of power over users can have far-reaching implications. Oftentimes, users entrust Google with storing priceless family photos, valuable documents and critical emails.

Amazon customers who’ve run afoul of the e-commerce giant have faced similarly devastating consequences losing out on pre-paid memberships and media they supposedly owned.

“Its the 21st century version of losing priceless mementos in a house fire,” Eleff said.

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Google Jamboard Is a Huge 4K Screen You Can Scribble On

Google is off to a solid start with the“we make hardware now” thing. The Pixelphone is great, Google Home and Google Wi-Fi look promising, and Chromecast is already really popular. Now comes Jamboard, a modern spin on an old-school tool: the whiteboard.

The 55-inch 4K touchscreen is the first hardware product in Googles rebranded G Suite of cloud-based tools—you know, things like Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Docs. Thosetools make long-distance collaboration easy online, but that can break down onceeveryone is in the sameroom. People have to agree which tool to use, and trying to sort it all outhampers spontaneity.

“We thought that might somehow limit creativity,” says Jonathan Rochelle, director of product for G Suite. “It made it so that when people wanted to be creative and collaborative, they cant do the same thing at the same time. That bothered us, because the reason youre in a meeting is to collaborate.

Others have riffed on the digitalwhiteboard—Sharps Aquos Board and Microsoft’s Surface Hub come to mind. The difference here is how Googles tools and cloud services tie it all together. Launch a Jamboard session and people can join in from anywhere usingthe Jamboard app on an Android or iOS device. They see a real-time feed from the board and can add text, photos, and drawings to the mix. The leader of the session can share it all with Google Hangout participants.

The big-screen Jamboard session is essentially replicated on the tablet: You can add things, rearrange them, and pull in images or maps from a side menu. The interactions are limited on a phone, but you see everything on the board in real time, and you can add text or createdigital sticky notes. One major limitation is that you can’t really chip in on a laptop or desktop: You can watch a Jam session unfold in a browser, but you can only contribute via the mobile apps.

You can drive a meeting from a tablet, but the massive Jamboard is the ultimate mission control. It includes twochunky passive stylii that feel like sidewalk chalk in your hand, and the screen is pressure-sensitive when youre writing on it. Magnets keep the stylii and microfiber eraser nestled onJamboard’s metal base, but don’t worry if Steve from accounting swipesthem. Any rubber-tipped stylus works, and you can use your hand to erasethings.

Everything is saved to Google Drive, an essential convenience because Jamboard doesn’t have internal memory. Select the“handwriting-to-text tool before you start scribbling and Jamboard does an impressive job converting your scrawl to searchable text.And it canstraighten your lines, shapes, and symbols so everything looks neat and tidy.

From the board, you can dial in participants via Google Hangouts and search for images, maps, videos, and web pages to drag and drop into a Jam session. An HD camera above the screen lets you snap picsor selfies, while HDMI inputs and built-in Chromecast let youNetflix and chill in the comfort of your boardroom.

Youll need to wait a while before you buying this physical embodiment of Google Wavebecause it won’t be widely available until next year. It’ll cost less than $6,000 at that point, butyoucan register today to be part of the early-adopter program. In the meantime, you’ll just have to use your analog whiteboard.

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How much solar energy can your roof make? Just Google it

Marrakech, Morocco (CNN)If you’ve ever thought about putting solar panels on your roof, you know that the process doesn’t exactly qualify as an impulse purchase.

Typically, it involves multiple visits from solar installers.
    The standard practice in the industry is to go up on the rooftop with a fish-eye camera, then take a picture from each of the four corners to make an estimate of the solar potential of the roof.
    What if you could do that from your computer instead, and all by yourself?
    Enter Project Sunroof, a Google tool that uses high-resolution 3D data and artificial intelligence to allow you to do exactly that.

    A better (Google) Earth

    Project Sunroof shares some of its technology with the familiar Google Maps and Google Earth, and then adds its own spin to it.
    The only catch is that the source data must be very detailed: Project Sunroof doesn’t use satellite photos, because the resolution isn’t enough, but high quality imagery which is available only where Google has flown airplanes to collect aerial shots.
    “For that reason we probably won’t ever get to cover all the buildings in the US, or any country for that matter. That’s why we focus on the most populous areas,” said Conkling.
    “We hope to expand abroad but we have no concrete plans to do so as of yet. The data is available for around 30 to 40 other countries already.”

    UN award winner

    The project spawns from Google’s “20 Percent Time” scheme, which allows engineers at the company to spend one day a week on whatever they find interesting. The scheme has incubated some famous Google products, like Gmail and Google News.
    After launching in 2015 in just three cities, Project Sunroof has attracted millions of users so far, according to Conkling.
    It’s one of the winners of the 2016 United Nations “Momentum for Change” award, which every year shines a light on innovative, scalable and replicable examples of what people are doing to address climate change. As such, it was showcased at the UN’s climate change conference, COP22, in Marrakech, Morocco.
    New this year is something called the “Data Explorer:” whereas Sunroof’s original incarnation focuses on the solar potential of a specific house, the Data Explorer takes it up a level to aggregate data about a city, a county or a state.
    “It’s targeted at city or state leaders and other governmental figures who want to learn about the solar potential for their whole jurisdiction to set data driven solar policies,” said Conkling.

    Green commitment

    Google has a strong commitment to renewable energy.
    To date, it says it has invested $2.5 billion in wind and solar projects around the world, which can generate over 3.7 GW a year, enough to power one million US homes. It is the largest non-utility purchaser of renewable energy in the world.
    The company already powers 35 percent of its operations from renewables, with a goal of 100% by 2025.

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