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LinkedIn loses legal right to protect user data from AI scraping

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A Judge today ruled that an analytics company has the right to scrape data from LinkedIn (LI). HiQ, the data gatherer, has been processing publicly available data from LI and using it to train AI models, until May when LI demanded it stop.

Scraping is a data-gathering process that pulls relevant information from websites. LinkedIn, a Microsoft owned company, issued a formal letter asking HiQ to stop scraping the site because doing so violated its user agreement.

The letter indicated that LI had taken technological steps to prevent HiQ from continued scraping, and that further attempts to circumvent such protections would be a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

HiQ lawyered up; it caught the attention of Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law specialist who seldom takes on new cases. Jolt Digest, a Harvard legal site, says his involvement may be due to the case centering on a company scraping only publicly available data: HiQ never sought privately stored information.

The ruling today, which LI plans to appeal, sets the stage for what could turn out to be a free-speech argument. According to Reuters a LinkedIn spokesperson said:

We’re disappointed in the court’s ruling; this case is not over. We will continue to fight to protect our members’ ability to control the information they make available on LinkedIn.

Since the data was made publicly available by the users posting it, LI was not able to prove ownership of it to a degree that gives it the right to block others from accessing it.

Anyone could, theoretically, click on every profile and use a pen and paper to copy all the info, and then feed the data into a computer. If they had enough time and manpower. Of course, this would be ridiculous and inefficient, which is why such tasks are done using an algorithm that gathers and sorts data.

The question that remains: is it okay to implement technological measures to stop robots from scraping your website for data?

Today’s ruling says that HiQ and its algorithms can scrape away and, according to the Judge’s order, LI has to let it:

To the extent LinkedIn has already put in place technology to prevent hiQ from accessing these public profiles, it is ordered to remove any such barriers.

It’s unclear whether the Judge spoke specifically about the role that AI played in gathering the data, but it is clear that the ruling allows the algorithm to continue doing its job, and LI can’t take steps to stop it.

Call it a win for the robots, as long as it’s legal to analyze data they’ll continue to have jobs.

U.S. judge says LinkedIn cannot block startup from public profile data on Reuters

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Gadgets

A week on the wrist with the Alpina Startimer

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It’s refreshing to wear a mechanical watch. The soft sweep of the seconds hand reminds us of the fleeting nature of time while the endless ticking in a dark room is a comfort and a spur to action. Add in a little limited edition provenance with big face and crown and you’ve got a stew going.

This particular stew is called the Alpina Startimer. It is a pilot’s watch, a watch with a large face and huge numerals used by old-timey fighter pilots during World War II. Designed with a huge crown which, as William Gibson wrote, “is rather more than usually prominent, so that you can do it without removing your whacking great RAF pilot’s gloves,” the pilot’s watch is the ultimate in utilitarian wrist-wear. You don’t admire a pilot’s watch, you address it for a split second while preparing to take Gs in a barrel roll.

This particular model is made by Alpina, a smaller Swiss manufacturer that has long specialized in a larger, bolder watch. The $1,150 piece runs a AL-525 movement which is based on the Sellita SW200. This is a Swiss movement that is, to a degree, mass-produced and is considered a workhorse in the watch world. It is part of their Startimer line but features special design cues and a limited edition engraving.

This piece is a commemorates Michael Goulian Aerosports, a stunt aerosports team that, we learn, straps these things to their wrists and whizzes around obstacles. The watch “is presented in a special edition box alongside a miniature model of Michael Goulian’s Red Bull Air Race World Championship competition airplane” and is aimed at fans of little planes that go really fast.

What’s special about this watch? Well, it’s a nicely made automatic watch at a price point that is on par with other entry-level pieces in the space. It has great lume – the numerals and hands glow in the dark making it very readable – and the band is a little thin but well-made. If you particularly like this mix of red, black, and titanium it’s a definite keeper.

I, for one, prefer either a steel or dark PVD pilot’s watch. All the bright metal on this piece is a bit distracting and takes away from the utilitarian nature of the original pilot’s watches. The traditional pilots watch also has broadarrow hands – IWC makes one that is a good example of the standard design – and the decision to add thinner hands to this piece is a bit incongruous.

I wore it off and on for a week and found it to be very readable and very precise. Watches slow down over time but this one managed to keep solid time over seven days with an average loss of a few minutes by the time my test was over. Again, you don’t buy these sorts of things to maintain atomic accuracy, you buy them to be reminded of a simpler time in aviation history.

Ultimately when it comes to a piece like this you’re buying quality and then design. The quality is there as Alpina has been making solid, dependable watches for decades. The design is subjective and if you’re into a “rather more than usually prominent” crown with a bold, handsome face then you could do worse for yourself. Now all you have to do is buy yourself some whacking great RAF pilot’s gloves and you’ll be set to take to the skies.

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Google Assistant is coming to older Android phones and tablets

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The Google Assistant, Google’s take on Siri, Cortana and Alexa without the approachable name, has long been available on most modern phones and tablets. But given the fragmentation of the Android ecosystem, many older devices will never get the newer versions of Android that actually feature built-in support for the Assistant. Now, however, Google is bringing support for its voice-activated helper to phones running Android 5.0 Lollipop and tablets running Android 7.0 Nougat and 6.0 Marshmallow.

Lollipop launched back in 2014, so we’re talking about a rather old phone operating system here (Android 8.1 is now standard on Google’s own Pixel phones), but according to Google, more than 26 percent of all Android devices still run some version of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Just over 30 percent run Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Still, with an update to the Google Play Services, even these older devices will now get access to all the goodies that the Google Assistant promises — and often delivers.

If you still own one of these older Lollipop phones, you should see an update relatively soon. It’ll only be available to users who set their language to English in the U.S., U.K., India, Australia, Canada and Singapore, as well as to those who have set their default language to Spanish in the U.S., Mexico and Spain. Google says it will also roll out to users in Italy, Japan, Germany, Brazil and Korea.

Because the Assistant on these older devices isn’t baked right into the launcher, though, you’ll have to launch the Google Assistant app before you can ask your phone for directions, the weather, recipes or jokes (in case you are feeling sad).

As for Marshmallow and Nougat tablet users, they’ll get the update over the course of the coming week, as long as they are in the U.S. and have set their language to English.
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Mario Bear has come to save 2017

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It’s been a long year – it feels like it actually spanned about 50, in fact. But now, at the end, some relief: Mario Bear.

Yes, it’s just a bear from Build-A-Bear Workshop. And a ‘brand collaboration,’ that horrific thing that usually just means some executives get a larger Christmas bonus and more people are convinced to part with their hard-earned money for something they don’t need. But this is a Mario Bear.

There’s also a Yoshi. And a Bowser. And a Toad. And a Luigi costume in case you want your bear to represent one of Nintendo’s slightly less appreciated protagonists. And a Princess Peach costume so you can prep your bear for far-flung adventuring (play Super Mario Odyssey if you don’t get this reference).

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Nintendo also licensed BAB (do people call it that?) to create a 3-pack of “Super Mario Wrist Accessories,” a Super Mario branded hoodie for bears, and sounds including the Mario theme song. I assume these all mean something to people who understand what Build-A-Bear is and how it works.

All I know is that this is not the Mario Bear we deserve, but it’s definitely the one we need right now.
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