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LinkedIn is shutting down its Stories feature after a year

LinkedIn is ditching Stories. The company will shut down the feature by the end of September, a year after rolling it out. As it turns out, ephemeral posts aren't a perfect fit for every social network. Perhaps with ROI and KPIs in mind, LinkedIn says its users want videos that stay on their profiles permanently, not ones that vanish.

"In developing Stories, we assumed people wouldn’t want informal videos attached to their profile, and that ephemerality would reduce barriers that people feel about posting," Liz Li, LinkedIn's senior director of product wrote. "Turns out, you want to create lasting videos that tell your professional story in a more personal way and that showcase both your personality and expertise."

As such, the company's going back to the whiteboard. It's taking what it learned from Stories (such as users wanting creative tools to liven up videos in a professional way) to create a "reimagined video experience across LinkedIn that’s even richer and more conversational."

Just about every major social network hopped on the Stories bandwagon after the likes of Snapchat and Instagram found huge success with the format. Although the feature has proven a hit on the likes of YouTube and Facebook, Stories haven't taken off on every platform. Twitter recently shut down Fleets, its take on Stories, less than nine months after launching the feature.

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Google adds shipping and return labels to product listings in search and shopping tool

With the holiday season quickly approaching, Google plans to surface the shipping and return policies of stores that list items on its platforms to help consumers quickly find out if they can get free delivery and returns on their purchases. You’ll see the labels appear across both free and paid listings. “Free delivery by Friday, December 24th,” says one of the example annotations the company shared. Merchants will need to meet a list of requirements before they can add the labels to their listings, so you won’t see them on every product.

Shipping and return annotations won’t dramatically change your shopping experience, but they make you decide to jump on a product you would have otherwise glossed over. Google has spent much of the last year adding these types of features to its shopping hubs. At I/O 2021, for example, it showed off a feature inside of Chrome that displayed shopping carts you abandoned before completing a purchase in a new tab.

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Google delays mandatory return to office until January 2022

Google is once again pushing back its return to in-person work. CEO Sundar Pichai told employees the company is delaying the mandatory return to office until January 2022. The current voluntary scheme will last through January 10th. From then on, Google's offices will make the decisions about when (and if) to make office work mandatory. Staff will be notified 30 days in advance if they're required to show up.

The internet pioneer previously hoped to institute a hybrid work week on October 18th, with staff coming in for three out of five days. That, in turn, was later than the originally planned September return.

The reasoning behind the delay isn't surprising. The COVID-19 pandemic recovery, and thus the return to offices, has been "longer and bumpier than expected," according to Pichai. In other words, factors like the virus' Delta variant, vaccination rates and varying case levels have clouded the situation — what works well in one country could be dangerous in another.

Not that Google will take chances regardless. The company now requires full vaccination for any employee returning to the office, voluntary or otherwise. Google might be eager to have people fill its halls, but it also doesn't want safety issues or skittish employees. It's not alone, either — fellow tech firms like Apple have delayed their own return-to-office plans as the pandemic's realities become clearer.

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Punishing platformer ‘Ghostrunner’ adds accessibility mode

Ghostrunner was one of the best surprises of 2020. It’s a stylish first-person platformer that takes the best elements of Titanfall’s parkour mechanics and adds a cyberpunk twist to the proceedings. It’s also a challenging game that demands precision and purpose from the player. Make a single mistake, and you’ll need to replay a section of a level again. That can get frustrating fast, so developer One More Level is adding a new feature called Assist Mode.

Assist Mode introduces three options you can toggle on and off. You can opt to shorten your character’s ability cooldowns, slow down the game to give you more time to react and play with an extra life to make mistakes less punishing. Accessibility modes are becoming more common in video games, and it’s always good to see another developer find a way to allow more people to enjoy their work.

For experienced players, there’s a new feature called Wave Mode that is essentially Ghostrunner’s take on a roguelike. You’ll need to complete 20 rounds in succession, with each one featuring different enemies — even when you attempt the same one multiple times. Make it all the way to the end, and you’ll earn a fancy new katana for your character.

Both Assist and Wave modes are available today for free on the platforms where you can already buy Ghostrunner. That includes PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam, the Epic Games Store and GOG. When the game makes its way to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S on September 28th, it will come with those modes included.

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Samsung adds Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Flip 3 features to older foldable phones

You won't have to buy a Galaxy Z Fold 3 or Flip 3 to get their software upgrades. Samsung is rolling out a One UI 3.1.1 update that brings many of those phones' multitasking and app resizing features to the original Fold, Fold 2, Flip and Flip 5G.

The Fold line unsurprisingly benefits the most thanks to its larger, tablet-like screen. Features like Multi-Active Window (up to three apps at once) and App Split View (seeing extra content for an app) make that folding display much more useful. You can also force apps to resize and rotate on your Fold, pin your favorites with the Taskbar and mirror your internal display on the cover screen.

Not that Flip owners are out of luck. Drag & Split lets all Samsung foldable owners create a new window for an already-open app, and you can invoke Flex Mode to bring up media controls when the phone is partially folded.

Most of these features are deploying now, although you'll have to wait an extra week if you're using the first Galaxy Fold. Not that you'll likely mind. This could significantly improve the usefulness of your older foldable, and suggests Samsung is eager to earn the loyalty of early adopters — if just to increase the chances that you'll buy another Fold or Flip when you're due for an upgrade.

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DOJ: Hackers behind SolarWinds attacks targeted federal prosecutors

The perpetrators of the SolarWinds hacks apparently targeted key parts of the American legal system. According to the AP, the Justice Department says hackers targeted federal prosecutors between May 2020 and December 2020. There were 27 US Attorney offices where the intruders compromised at least one email account, officials said.

The victims included some of the more prominent federal offices, including those in the Eastern and Souther Districts of New York as well as Miami, Los Angeles and Washington.

The DOJ said it had alerted all victims and was taking steps to blunt the risks resulting from the hack. The Department previously said there was no evidence the SolarWinds hackers broke into classified systems, but federal attorneys frequently exchange sensitive case details.

The Biden administration has officially blamed Russia's state-backed Cozy Bear group for the hacks, and retaliated by expelling diplomats and sanctioning 32 "entities and individuals." Russia has denied involvement.

It's not certain if the US will escalate its response. The damage has already been done, after all. This further illustrates the severity of the attacks, however, and hints at the focus — they were clearly interested in legal data in addition to source code and other valuable information.

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Apple pulls anti-vax social app over misinformation (updated)

Mobile app shops are cracking down on one of the higher-profile communities spreading anti-vax misnformation. Bloombergreports that Apple has removed Unjected, a hybrid social and dating app for the unvaccinated, for "inappropriately" referencing the COVID-19 pandemic's concept and themes. While Unjected bills itself as a place to find others who support "medical autonomy and free speech," social posts on the site have included false claims that vaccines modify genes, connect to 5G and serve as "bioweapons."

The app founders are also embroiled in a fight over their Android app. Google told Unjected on July 16th that it had two weeks to remove the misleading posts from its app to avoid a Play Store ban. The developers responded by pulling the social feed. However, co-creator Shelby Thompson said Unjected planned to defy the request by restoring both the feed and the offending posts.

We've asked Apple and Google for comment. Unjected still has a presence on Instagram despite that social network's anti-misinformation stance, although that account mostly promotes its views on "freedom" and only occasionally mentions falsehoods, such as incorrect claims that mRNA vaccines alter DNA. We've asked Facebook for a response as well.

Unjected is small compared to mainstream social networks, with roughly 18,000 app downloads (according to Apptopia). However, the crackdown clearly serves as a warning — Apple and Google won't tolerate apps that knowingly accept and encourage the creation anti-vax content, even if they aren't directly producing that material.

Update 7/31 6:18PM ET: Apple told Engadget that Unjected violated rules demanding reliable COVID-19 information from trustworthy sources, like health agencies and medical institutions. The tech firm further accused Unjected of less-than-honest tactics. The app producer reversed changes made to comply with App Store rules, and encouraged users to help it dodge those rules by avoiding the use of telltale words. Trying to cheat the system is itself grounds for a ban, according to Apple. Don't expect Unjected to come back.

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Rivian may build its first international EV factory in the UK

Rivian might not be focused solely on expanding its US production. Sky Newssources claim the EV designer is in talks with the British government to build a manufacturing plant near Bristol. The discussions aren't yet in late stages, but the focus is reportedly on production for the vehicles themselves rather than batteries, although there was room for an all-encompassing Tesla-style gigafactory.

Rival proposals have come from Germany and the Netherlands, Sky claimed. If the UK plant did go ahead, though, the government could supposedly invest "well over" £1 billion (about $1.39 billion). Rivian declined to comment.

There's certainly pressure to commit to international expansion. Rivian has just one factory, a former Mitsubishi plant in Illinois, and it only just unveiled plans for a second American facility that might also produce batteries. That output could limit potential sales, especially outside of North America, and might hamper Amazon's electric delivery van rollout.

This could help Rivian scale to counter rivals like Tesla and Volkswagen, both of which are rapidly growing their EV manufacturing bases. The UK intends to ban sales of combustion engine cars in 2035, and that means switching local production to EVs. A Rivian factory could help the country transition to EV manufacturing, not to mention encourage sales that would make public acceptance that much stronger.

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People first drove on the Moon 50 years ago today

NASA just celebrated another major moment in the history of Moon exploration. The New York Timesnoted that July 31st, 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the Lunar Roving Vehicle's first outing — and the first time people drove on the Moon. Apollo 15 astronauts Dave Scott and Jim Irwin took the car on a stint to collect samples and explore the lunar surface more effectively than they could on foot.

Scott and Irwin would eventually drive the rover two more times (for a total of three hours) before returning to Earth. The Apollo 16 and 17 missions each had an LRV of their own. There was also a fourth rover, but it was used for spare parts after the cancellation of Apollo 18 and further missions. All three serving models remained on the Moon.

Early development was problematic, in no small part due to the lack of real-world testing conditions. They couldn't exactly conduct a real-world test drive, after all. The team eventually settled on a collapsible design with steel mesh wheels that could safely handle the Moon's low gravity, lack of atmosphere, extreme temperatures and soft soil.

The LRV was modest, with a 57-mile range, four 0.19kW motors and an official top speed of 8MPH. It was also expensive, with cost overruns bringing the price of four rovers to $38 million (about $249 million in 2021 dollars). It was key to improved scientific exploration during the later stages of the Apollo program, though, and it was also an early example of a practical electric vehicle — humans were using a battery-powered ride on the Moon decades before the technology became mainstream on Earth.

We wouldn't count on humans driving on the Moon any time soon, although that reflects the progress made in the 50 years since. NASA and other space agencies are now focused on robotic rovers that can explore the Moon without worries about crew safety. Those humans that do go on rides will likely use autonomous vehicles. Think of this anniversary as celebrating a first step toward the technology you see today.

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Over 100 warship locations have been faked in one year

Abuses of location technology might just result in hot political disputes. According to Wired, SkyWatch and Global Fishing Watch have conducted studies showing that over 100 warship locations have been faked since August 2020, including the British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and the US destroyer Roosevelt. In some cases, the false data showed the vessels entering disputed waters or nearing other countries' naval bases — movements that could spark international incidents.

The research team found the fakes by comparing uses of the automatic identification system (AIS, a GPS-based system to help prevent collisions) with verifiable position data by using an identifying pattern. All of the false info came from shore-based AIS receivers while satellites showed the real positions, for instance. Global Fishing Watch had been investigating fake AIS positions for years, but this was the first time it had seen falsified data for real ships.

It's not certain who's faking locations and why. However, analysts said the data was characteristic of a common perpetrator that might be Russia. Almost all of the affected warships were from European countries or NATO members, and the data included bogus incursions around Kaliningrad, the Black Sea, Crimea and other Russian interests. In theory, Russia could portray Europe and NATO as aggressors by falsely claiming those rivals sent warships into Russian seas.

Russia has historically denied hacking claims. It has a years-long history of using fake accounts and misinformation to stoke political tensions that further its own ends, though. And if Russia is connected, the faked warship locations might be a significant escalation of that strategy. Even though such an approach might not lead to shooting matches, it could get disconcertingly close.

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