Clubhouse finally makes audio shareable with 30-second previews of rooms

One week after introducing a new invite system, Clubhouse is introducing a host of new features. The first of those new is Clips, a tool people can use to share previews of public rooms. When creators and hosts enable the feature, you’ll see a new icon that looks like a pair of scissors. Tap it and Clubhouse will capture the last 30 seconds of audio, which you can then share on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, iMessage or WhatsApp. Clubhouse says it’s rolling out Clips in beta to select creators today. In most public and open rooms, you should see the scissors icon there unless the host has gone out of their way to disable the feature.Sometime in the next few weeks, Clubhouse also plans to introduce a way for people to share archives of past live rooms. The feature is called Replays. As with Clips, it’s something that people will be able to disable if they want. When active, however, it will make past rooms discoverable for as long as a host or creator wants people to find that conversation. Clubhouse says it plans to start rolling out Replays sometime in October.Rounding things out, Clubhouse is introducing a search tool that allows you to look for specific people, clubs, live rooms and future events. Initially, that functionality will live in the Explore tab for about a week or two before Clubhouse moves it to the hallway sidebar. Last but not least, Android users can look forward to Clubhouse rolling out support for spatial audio. In many ways, the updates Clubhouse announced today address shortcomings that have been in the app for a while. The absence of a way to share audio was a particularly notable omission.  

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Disney settles Scarlett Johansson lawsuit over ‘Black Widow’ streaming strategy

Disney and Scarlett Johansson are no longer on the outs. The parties have reached a settlement for the lawsuit Johansson filed over the hybrid release strategy used for Black Widow. If you'll recall, the actor sued Disney over the company's decision to release her movie in theaters and on Disney+ at the same time, accusing the entertainment giant of breach of contract. 

Johansson's camp argued that Black Widow was supposed to be released in theaters exclusively under her deal with Marvel. According to the lawsuit she filed, she could lose as much as $50 million due to the hybrid release, seeing as her compensation is tied directly with the movie's box office success and doesn't include a cut from what Disney would make from streaming. People have had to pay $30 for a Premier Access pass to watch the movie on Disney+, and the company said Black Widow earned $60 million from streaming during its opening weekend. 

Her lawsuit also said that her camp tried to contact Disney and Marvel to re-negotiate their deal, but they were allegedly unresponsive. Neither party disclosed the terms of their agreement, but both issued a statement mentioning future collaborations. Alan Bergman, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, said he looks "forward to working together on a number of upcoming projects, including Disney's Tower of Terror."

Meanwhile, entertainment workers are gearing up for a strike because studios like Disney are rapidly producing content after pandemic-related restrictions had lifted. The situation led to poor working conditions with long hours and no breaks for production crew. Entertainment unions are hoping to convince studios to make changes, including ending the lower pay scale for smaller streaming services. Under the current rules, streaming services with fewer than 20 million subscribers like Apple TV+ does can pay their workers lower wages.

New FCC rules could force telephone companies to block robocalls to 911 call centers

Back in 2012, Congress directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create a special do-not-call registry to protect 911 call centers from robocalls. The system was never implemented in part due to security concerns that came up when the FCC and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) started looking into the feasibility of the idea. Specifically, there was a worry that a bad actor could use the registry to flood a call center with automated calls and thereby prevent them from helping people in need.

Fast forward to the present and the FCC says it has a better idea on how to accomplish the goal assigned to it by Congress. On Thursday, the agency proposed new rules that would require telephone companies to block robocalls made to those facilities. As Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel points out, the advantage of this approach is that it would limit access to the do-not-call registry to a select group of verified telephone companies and carriers. And by limiting access to that list, the FCC and FTC can put in place better safeguards to protect it. With today’s decision, the FCC isn’t ready yet to implement that system, but what it does plan to do is collect feedback before moving forward. “We believe this is a promising approach, but we want to get this right,” Rosenworcel said. 

Samsung’s digital car keys will soon be available on the Genesis GV60 in Korea

First announced back in January at Samsung's Galaxy S21 event, Hyundai revealed on Thursday that its upcoming GV60 crossover will be the first to work with the phonemaker's newfangled Digital Key — at least for GV60 owners living in Korea.

The Digital Key utilizes NFC and ultra wideband (UWB) technologies to grant drivers passive access to their vehicles — that is, so long as your Galaxy phone is in your possession, the vehicle will open automatically as you approach. The key can also be shared with "family and friends" according to a Thursday media release from Hyundai, though they'll need to own a Galaxy S21+ or Ultra, Note20 Ultra, or a Z Fold 2 or 3 for it to work. The system is designed to run on Android 12 and later, assuming your phone has a UWB chip, though it will also operate via NFC if you don't. 

Hyundai touts Samsung's embedded Secure Element (eSE) in terms of data protection and notes that the UWB-based transmission system is highly resistant to interception, cloning or jamming. Whether that security scheme will stand up to a mugger bonking you on the head, then taking your phone and your car remains to be seen. The digital key feature is expected to launch in Korea by the end of this year.

Google announced back in May that it planned to begin offering its own digital key system — separate from what Samsung has developed — on "select Pixel and Galaxy phones" with UWB capabilities. We've now seen UWB in the Galaxy, does that mean the Pixel 6 could offer it as well?

Facebook keeps downplaying its own research and lawmakers aren’t buying it

Yet another Facebook official just spent hours being grilled by members of Congress about the company’s policies, and whether or not it does enough to protect some of its most vulnerable users. And once again, the Facebook executive — today it was Head of Safety Antigone Davis — seemed to do her best to dodge the most difficult questions.

But the latest hearing on teen mental health, which came in response to reporting from The WSJ, was different from past hearings. That’s because, thanks to a whistleblower, members of the Senate Commerce Committee now have access to thousands of internal documents written by the company’s own researchers.

The documents, some of which have been made public, paint a very different picture of Facebook and Instagram’s understanding of how their services impact teens’ mental health than what they’ve publicly portrayed. Those documents are in the hands of lawmakers, making the findings that much harder for Facebook to spin. The disclosures have already forced Facebook to "pause" work on an Instagram Kids app.

“We now have a deep insight into Facebook's relentless campaign to recruit and exploit young users,” Senator Richard Blumenthal said at the start of the hearing. “We now know, while Facebook publicly denies that Instagram is deeply harmful for teens, privately, Facebook, researchers and experts have been ringing the alarm for years.”

This has forced Facebook into the uncomfortable position of trying to downplay the significance of its own research. “This is not bombshell research,” Davis repeated multiple times during the hearing. One day earlier, Facebook released heavily annotated versions of two of the documents, with notes that also tried to explain away its own findings. Those documents, which were just two of the “thousands” Blumenthal said he now has access to, used words like “myopic” and “sensationalizing” to try to minimize findings like the fact that Instagram makes “body images worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.”

The tactic didn’t go over well in the Senate on Thursday. “This research is a bombshell,” Blumenthal said. “It is powerful, gripping, riveting evidence that Facebook knows the harmful effects of its site on children, and that it has concealed those facts and findings.”

As with past hearings, there were some cringey moments. At one point, Blumenthal demanded to know if Facebook would “commit to ending finsta” — a reference to the secondary accounts often used by teens to stay anonymous. That forced Davis to awkwardly explain that so-called “finstas” are not an official Instagram feature. At another point, Sen. Ted Cruz demanded Davis explain why she wasn’t appearing at the hearing in person (she cited COVID-19 protocols).

But even with those moments, it was difficult to ignore the significance of these issues. It may seem obvious, but kids and teens are incredibly important to the company, which is consistently behind rivals like TikTok and Snapchat for that demographic. So much so that a former employee who worked on Messenger Kids recently said that “losing the Teen audience was considered an 'existential threat,'” for Facebook.

Worse for Facebook, there are very likely more bombshells coming. The whistleblower who provided the documents to The Journal and lawmakers, is appearing on 60 MinutesSunday night. And she is testifying at a separate Commerce Committee hearing next week. So while Facebook executives may be able to dodge questions and insist that their researchers’ conclusions have been mischaracterized, it will be much harder to rebut someone who was closely involved with that work.

Some senators hinted that there would be more to come at the next hearing. Senator Ray Luján asked Davis whether “Facebook ever tested whether a change to its platform increases an individual's or a group of users' propensity to post a violent or hateful language.” Davis said that it wasn’t her “area of expertise.”

“We might get more responses to that one next week,” he said.

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.

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.

Latest posts

Disney settles Scarlett Johansson lawsuit over ‘Black Widow’ streaming strategy

Disney and Scarlett Johansson are no longer on the outs. The parties have reached a settlement for the lawsuit Johansson filed over the hybrid release strategy used for Black Widow. If you'll recall, the actor sued Disney over the company's decision to release her movie in theaters and on Disney+ at the same time, accusing the entertainment giant of breach of contract. 

Johansson's camp argued that Black Widow was supposed to be released in theaters exclusively under her deal with Marvel. According to the lawsuit she filed, she could lose as much as $50 million due to the hybrid release, seeing as her compensation is tied directly with the movie's box office success and doesn't include a cut from what Disney would make from streaming. People have had to pay $30 for a Premier Access pass to watch the movie on Disney+, and the company said Black Widow earned $60 million from streaming during its opening weekend. 

Her lawsuit also said that her camp tried to contact Disney and Marvel to re-negotiate their deal, but they were allegedly unresponsive. Neither party disclosed the terms of their agreement, but both issued a statement mentioning future collaborations. Alan Bergman, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, said he looks "forward to working together on a number of upcoming projects, including Disney's Tower of Terror."

Meanwhile, entertainment workers are gearing up for a strike because studios like Disney are rapidly producing content after pandemic-related restrictions had lifted. The situation led to poor working conditions with long hours and no breaks for production crew. Entertainment unions are hoping to convince studios to make changes, including ending the lower pay scale for smaller streaming services. Under the current rules, streaming services with fewer than 20 million subscribers like Apple TV+ does can pay their workers lower wages.

New FCC rules could force telephone companies to block robocalls to 911 call centers

Back in 2012, Congress directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create a special do-not-call registry to protect 911 call centers from robocalls. The system was never implemented in part due to security concerns that came up when the FCC and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) started looking into the feasibility of the idea. Specifically, there was a worry that a bad actor could use the registry to flood a call center with automated calls and thereby prevent them from helping people in need.

Fast forward to the present and the FCC says it has a better idea on how to accomplish the goal assigned to it by Congress. On Thursday, the agency proposed new rules that would require telephone companies to block robocalls made to those facilities. As Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel points out, the advantage of this approach is that it would limit access to the do-not-call registry to a select group of verified telephone companies and carriers. And by limiting access to that list, the FCC and FTC can put in place better safeguards to protect it. With today’s decision, the FCC isn’t ready yet to implement that system, but what it does plan to do is collect feedback before moving forward. “We believe this is a promising approach, but we want to get this right,” Rosenworcel said. 

Facebook keeps downplaying its own research and lawmakers aren’t buying it

Yet another Facebook official just spent hours being grilled by members of Congress about the company’s policies, and whether or not it does enough to protect some of its most vulnerable users. And once again, the Facebook executive — today it was Head of Safety Antigone Davis — seemed to do her best to dodge the most difficult questions.

But the latest hearing on teen mental health, which came in response to reporting from The WSJ, was different from past hearings. That’s because, thanks to a whistleblower, members of the Senate Commerce Committee now have access to thousands of internal documents written by the company’s own researchers.

The documents, some of which have been made public, paint a very different picture of Facebook and Instagram’s understanding of how their services impact teens’ mental health than what they’ve publicly portrayed. Those documents are in the hands of lawmakers, making the findings that much harder for Facebook to spin. The disclosures have already forced Facebook to "pause" work on an Instagram Kids app.

“We now have a deep insight into Facebook's relentless campaign to recruit and exploit young users,” Senator Richard Blumenthal said at the start of the hearing. “We now know, while Facebook publicly denies that Instagram is deeply harmful for teens, privately, Facebook, researchers and experts have been ringing the alarm for years.”

This has forced Facebook into the uncomfortable position of trying to downplay the significance of its own research. “This is not bombshell research,” Davis repeated multiple times during the hearing. One day earlier, Facebook released heavily annotated versions of two of the documents, with notes that also tried to explain away its own findings. Those documents, which were just two of the “thousands” Blumenthal said he now has access to, used words like “myopic” and “sensationalizing” to try to minimize findings like the fact that Instagram makes “body images worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.”

The tactic didn’t go over well in the Senate on Thursday. “This research is a bombshell,” Blumenthal said. “It is powerful, gripping, riveting evidence that Facebook knows the harmful effects of its site on children, and that it has concealed those facts and findings.”

As with past hearings, there were some cringey moments. At one point, Blumenthal demanded to know if Facebook would “commit to ending finsta” — a reference to the secondary accounts often used by teens to stay anonymous. That forced Davis to awkwardly explain that so-called “finstas” are not an official Instagram feature. At another point, Sen. Ted Cruz demanded Davis explain why she wasn’t appearing at the hearing in person (she cited COVID-19 protocols).

But even with those moments, it was difficult to ignore the significance of these issues. It may seem obvious, but kids and teens are incredibly important to the company, which is consistently behind rivals like TikTok and Snapchat for that demographic. So much so that a former employee who worked on Messenger Kids recently said that “losing the Teen audience was considered an 'existential threat,'” for Facebook.

Worse for Facebook, there are very likely more bombshells coming. The whistleblower who provided the documents to The Journal and lawmakers, is appearing on 60 MinutesSunday night. And she is testifying at a separate Commerce Committee hearing next week. So while Facebook executives may be able to dodge questions and insist that their researchers’ conclusions have been mischaracterized, it will be much harder to rebut someone who was closely involved with that work.

Some senators hinted that there would be more to come at the next hearing. Senator Ray Luján asked Davis whether “Facebook ever tested whether a change to its platform increases an individual's or a group of users' propensity to post a violent or hateful language.” Davis said that it wasn’t her “area of expertise.”

“We might get more responses to that one next week,” he said.

Samsung’s digital car keys will soon be available on the Genesis GV60 in Korea

First announced back in January at Samsung's Galaxy S21 event, Hyundai revealed on Thursday that its upcoming GV60 crossover will be the first to work with the phonemaker's newfangled Digital Key — at least for GV60 owners living in Korea.

The Digital Key utilizes NFC and ultra wideband (UWB) technologies to grant drivers passive access to their vehicles — that is, so long as your Galaxy phone is in your possession, the vehicle will open automatically as you approach. The key can also be shared with "family and friends" according to a Thursday media release from Hyundai, though they'll need to own a Galaxy S21+ or Ultra, Note20 Ultra, or a Z Fold 2 or 3 for it to work. The system is designed to run on Android 12 and later, assuming your phone has a UWB chip, though it will also operate via NFC if you don't. 

Hyundai touts Samsung's embedded Secure Element (eSE) in terms of data protection and notes that the UWB-based transmission system is highly resistant to interception, cloning or jamming. Whether that security scheme will stand up to a mugger bonking you on the head, then taking your phone and your car remains to be seen. The digital key feature is expected to launch in Korea by the end of this year.

Google announced back in May that it planned to begin offering its own digital key system — separate from what Samsung has developed — on "select Pixel and Galaxy phones" with UWB capabilities. We've now seen UWB in the Galaxy, does that mean the Pixel 6 could offer it as well?

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.

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.