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Beyond the Page now available on Stadia


By Stephany Nunneley,
Friday, 27 March 2020 18:38 GMT

Lost Words: Beyond the Page, the atmospheric puzzler revolving around the story of a young girl, is now available on Google Stadia.

Lost Words: Beyond the Page explores a young girl’s journey as she faces the reality of losing a loved one.

In the game, you will interact with the words in Izzy’s diary to solve puzzles and build platforming segments to progress through the landscape. As you go through the words on each page, they will get you one step closer to solving puzzles to unlock the next chapter.

Penned by Rhianna Pratchett (Mirror’s Edge, Tomb Raider), the game was developed by Sketchbook Games formed of veterans from Fable 2 and the Harry Potter games.

It is set to be released on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC in 2021.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.





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Google has banned the Infowars Android app over false coronavirus claims


Google has banned the Infowars Android app from the Google Play store, the company confirmed to Wired on Friday. Google also confirmed the app’s removal to The Verge, and we couldn’t find the Infowars app in a search on the Play Store this evening.

The app was apparently removed because of a video posted by radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that, according to Wired, “disputed the need for social distancing, shelter in place, and quarantine efforts meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.” Before it was removed, the app had more than 100,000 downloads, Wired reports.

“Now more than ever, combating misinformation on the Play Store is a top priority for the team,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement given to The Verge. “When we find apps that violate Play policy by distributing misleading or harmful information, we remove them from the store.” Infowars was not immediately available for comment.

Last week, Alex Jones was ordered by New York Attorney General Letitia James to stop selling Infowars products that were marketed as a treatment or cure for the coronavirus. “[Alex Jones’] latest mistruths are incredibly dangerous and pose a serious threat to the public health of New Yorkers and individuals across the nation,” James said in a statement.

Tech companies have also publicly committed to cracking down on coronavirus misinformation. Google has an “SOS Alert” in place for searches for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, that points to resources from the CDC and local governments at the top of search results. And a group of companies that includes Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube said they’re “jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus” in a statement issued on March 16th.

Apple permanently banned the Infowars app from the App Store in September 2018, citing App Store guidelines that forbid content that’s “offensive, insensitive, upsetting, intended to disgust, or in exceptionally poor taste.”



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Snapchat’s Zenly launches shelter-in-place leaderboard – TechCrunch


Snapchat’s location-sharing app acquisition Zenly has gamified shelter-in-place during the COVID-19 outbreak. Today the app launched its Stay At Home challenge that shows a leaderboard of which friends have spent the most percentage of the last three days in their homes. Users can see who’s social distancing the best and share stickers of the scoreboard and coronavirus prevention tips to Snapchat, Instagram and other apps.

Location apps like Zenly that typically encourage users to go out and explore the world suddenly lost most of their purpose due to the widespread order for people to self-quarantine. They even might have incentivized people to disobey those orders. But by building a game around isolation, Zenly could make it cool to show off how you’re NOT grabbing coffee, visiting friends or taking a walk down Main Street.

Zenly’s CEO Antoine Martin announced the feature this morning, and credited a tweet I posted on March 15 calling for developers to build a gamified quarantine app as the inspiration. The quick work and rapid deployment was spearheaded by Danny Trinh, the renowned designer of Path who joined the company last year. TechCrunch broke the news back in June 2018 that Snapchat had acquired Zenly for $213 million plus retention bonuses.

Beyond Zenly’s version of “Pokemon No Go,” the app is also offering tips for containing coronavirus and a link to World Health Organization info. You can also attach a surgical mask to your profile pic to let your friends know you’re taking social distancing seriously.

What could really make a difference in convincing people to do their part to fight this worldwide pandemic, though, is Zenly’s coronavirus lens for its map that it released last week. It lets you look around the world and see the number of confirmed cases and recoveries in each country or state. Zenly updates the data three times per day based on the The John Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The map also overlays info from the WHO, the Netherlands’ BNO News, China’s DXY and this crowdsourced GitHub.

We’ve asked if there are any plans to launch similar features on Snap Map, which was inspired by Zenly. To date, Snapchat has mostly allowed its acquisition to operate independently from its existing headquarters in Paris.

“During these tough times, millions of people are turning to Zenly as a source of information and connection, so that they can feel close to friends and family even when social distancing is keeping them apart,” says Martin. “While spending too much time at home could be perceived as uncool, we wanted to flip the narrative to make it something that our community would be proud of and do our part in stopping the spread.” Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley told me his company was looking for a way to build its own quarantine gamification, and now has complimented Zenly on its execution, calling it “clever and awesome and beautiful.”

Knowing what’s happening around the globe might reinforce the gravity of our situation and that people can’t just go about their normal routine. We all have to battle this together, even if we’re stuck apart. Thanks to Zenly, social distancing just got a lot more social.





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“With me” videos on YouTube are seeing huge spikes in viewership as people stay home


YouTube creators are performing everyday tasks or taking on crafts and activities that people can do at home because everyone is stuck indoors right now. The genre has boomed as a result of social distancing.

Daily views of videos with “#withme” in the title have increased by 600 percent since March 15th compared to the rest of the year, according to YouTube. Uploads of videos from creators with “at home” in the title have also increased by more than 590 percent. Of those two types of videos, titles like “cook with me,” “work out at home” and “home office” have seen their average daily views grow by 100, 200, and 130 percent respectively.

YouTube has asked people to stay home (#StayHome) and encouraged creators to participate in a new “#WithMe” campaign that started today. A number of creators have already started asking viewers to stay home and continue to socially distance themselves as the world tries to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The company has also curated a number of “with me” playlists for people looking to exercise, cook, clean, study, and more through YouTube.

“It’s just me and you guys today,” Lauren Riihimaki of the popular LaurDIY channel says in a recent video where she makes tie-dye clothes using tools she found around the house while social distancing. “It’s just me, you, a monitor and two cameras — one wide, and a close up shot so you can see what I’m doing. It really does feel like old times.”

It’s unclear if these videos are seeing a surge in revenue. The Verge asked YouTube for more information, and will update if there is a response. Hank Green, one of the longest running YouTube creators on the platform, tweeted on March 22nd that while viewership across all channels has increased about five percent over the last week, advertising revenue is down 30 percent. Other creators are worried their advertising revenue will also fall, but are looking into doing other forms of videos to try and continue entertaining fans.

“With me” videos first started appearing on YouTube in 2007, but didn’t really become a genre unto its own until 2010. People getting ready for school or work would upload their routine, including choosing outfits to wear or making breakfast. The idea was that people at home could do their own morning routine while watching their favorite creators. By 2014, “with me” videos focusing on productivity started to emerge, including “study with me” and “journal with me.” By last year, “paint with me” became the most popular creative-focused version of the format.

YouTube’s culture team has described “with me” videos as ways of making lonely tasks “opportunities for connection.” That may explain why there’s a boom in views and uploads right now. People stuck at home are looking for new ways to entertain themselves, while YouTubers who might normally film outside their homes are looking for interesting and fun ways to continue providing entertainment to subscribers.





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Grab Shovel Knight for the Switch for only $24.99


By Elizabeth Henges,
Friday, 27 March 2020 20:29 GMT

Want some awesome retro-style platforming on your Animal Crossing device? You can grab the full set of Shovel Knight games for the Switch at a nice discount!

That’s right, if you want Shovel Knight and the three accompanying campaigns (which might as well be full games in their own right) on the Nintendo Switch, you can get the digital version for only $24.99 at multiple retailers! But, it really is only the Switch version, and it’s definitely not for the physical edition either. But, the advantage of a digital copy is that if you make a Nintendo Account for the region the code is for, you can buy and play it no matter where you’re from.

Here are the retailers that are selling the digital copy of Treasure Trove:

So, you’ll probably be able to grab a copy somewhere, even if one retailer sells out! $24.99 was the original price of the Treasure Trove, but this was before King of Cards and Specter of Torment released, so this is now effectively a Good Sales Price.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.





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Lyft is referring drivers to jobs at Amazon after massive ridership decline


Lyft is now referring drivers on its platform to jobs at Amazon in a partnership between the two companies designed to alleviate financial hardships from a massive drop in ride-hailing usage, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Lyft notified drivers of the program on Friday via email and said it’s encouraging them to apply to roles in Amazon warehouses and as part of the e-commerce company’s grocery and package deliveries platforms. Unlike Uber, which operates a food delivery platform, Lyft does not delivery meals or groceries, and its ridership has plummeted in recent weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Amazon is among the few companies still able to hire at a time of record job losses, as demand for its delivery services surges due to city lockdowns and self-isolation and quarantine recommendations in effect throughout the country. Earlier this month, Amazon said it would raise its hourly rate by $2 through April and hire at least 100,000 new workers to keep up with strains on its warehouses and delivery network.

Through the new partnership with Amazon, Lyft says its drivers can sign up for jobs with the e-commerce giant, and that 100,00 Lyft drivers have already done so. The company is also advising any drivers who do continue using its platform purchase plastic barriers for sealing off the front seat of the vehicle from the backseat. The company is informing its drivers that they may be eligible for benefits as part of the historic stimulus package Congress passed earlier today, too.

It’s not clear if the partnership is limited to contract work like Amazon’s grocery delivery platform Fresh and package delivery platform Flex, or if Lyft drivers will be eligible for part- or full-time jobs at Amazon warehouses and elsewhere within the company. It’s also not clear exactly what benefits the partnership is providing Lyft drivers, like whether signing up means a driver can more quickly find and secure an Amazon job versus simply applying or signing up for an Amazon on-demand platform on their own. Lyft was not immediately available for comment.



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It’s still easy to find coronavirus mask ads on Facebook – TechCrunch


Ads for face masks are still appearing on Facebook, Instagram and Google, according to a review of the platforms carried out by the Tech Transparency Project (TTP). This despite pledges by the platforms that they would stamp out ads which seek to profit from the coronavirus pandemic.

Facebook said on March 6 that it would temporarily ban commerce listings and advertisements for medical face masks, in an effort to combat price-gouging and misinformation during the COVID-19 crisis.

Google followed suit a few days later, saying it would temporarily ban all medical face mask ads “out of an abundance of caution.”

The risk of online misinformation exacerbating a global public health crisis has been front of mind for policymakers in many Western markets. Meanwhile front-line medical staff continue to face shortages of vital personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks, as they battle rising rates of infection.

There has also been concern that online sellers are attempting to cash in on a public health crisis by price gouging and/or targeting internet users with ads for substandard masks.

Early last week two senators urged the U.S.’ FTC to act, blasting Google for continuing to allow ads for face masks to be shown to internet users.

A week later and ads are still circulating.

The TTP — a research project by the nonprofit Campaign for Accountability, a group which focuses on exposing misconduct and malfeasance in public life — reported finding web users still being targeted with face mask ads on Google this week.

It also conducted a review of Facebook and Instagram, and was able to find more than 130 pages on Facebook listing masks for sale, including some using the platform’s e-commerce tools. 

“One Facebook Page called ‘CoronaVirus Mask’ offers a ‘respiratory mask collection,’ with prices ranging from $32 to $37, and uses Facebook’s ‘Shop’ feature to display its merchandise and allow people to add purchases to their cart,” it writes in a blog post. “Facebook’s ‘check out on website’ button then directs users to complete the purchase on the seller’s website.”

“Facebook pages that use WhatsApp to establish contact with buyers are employing a tactic commonly used by wildlife and other traffickers, who often display goods on Facebook and then arrange the actual purchase through WhatsApp encrypted messages. The Facebook Page ‘Surgical Face Mask For Sale,’ for example, has a video showing boxes of medical masks and the seller’s WhatsApp number scrawled on a piece of paper,” it added.

“A visit to one of these Facebook pages often triggers recommendations for other pages selling face masks, a sign that the platform’s algorithms are actually amplifying the reach of these sketchy sellers. TTP, without logging into Facebook, went to the page for ‘Corona Mask Shop’ and was served up ‘Related Pages’ for ‘Corona Mask 247’ and ‘Corona MASK on sale.’ ”

TechCrunch conducted our own searches on Facebook today and while some obvious search terms returned no results a little tweaking of keywords choice and we were quickly able to find additional pages hawking face masks — such as the below example grabbed from a Facebook page calling itself “Face Mask Manufacturer.”

From this page Facebook’s algorithm then recommended more pages — with names like “Medical Masks” and “Dispo mask for sale” — which also appeared to be selling masks.

The TTP’s review also found mask ads circulating on Facebook-owned Instagram.

“One Instagram account for @coronavsmask reads, ‘Act now before it’s too late! GET your N95 Respiratory Face Mask NOW!’ It only has a single post but already counts over 6,300 followers,” it wrote. “An account created on March 14 called @handsanitizers_and_coronamask includes over a dozen posts offering such products.”

It also found “several” Instagram accounts that sell drugs had begun to incorporate medical face masks into their offerings.

At the time of writing Facebook had not responded to our request for comment on the findings. Update: The company has now sent this statement, attributed to a Facebook spokesperson:

Facebook is focused on preventing exploitation of this crisis for financial gain. Since COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency, Facebook has removed millions of ads and commerce listings for the sale of masks, hand sanitiser, surface disinfecting wipes and COVID-19 test kits. While enforcement is not perfect, we have put several automated detection mechanisms in place to block or remove this material from our platform.

In further searches the group was reproduced examples of Google’s third-party advertising display network serving ads for face masks alongside news stories related to the coronavirus — an issue highlighted by Sen. Mark Warner in a tweet last week when he blasted the company for “still running ads for facemasks and other coronavirus scams.”

“The Facebook mask pages were searched and collected on March 17-18 using the terms “corona mask,” “N95” and “surgical mask” in Facebook’s search function,” a TTP spokesman told us when asked for more info about its review. “Of the more than 130 pages identified, 43 were created in the month of March, more than a dozen of those just days before TTP ran the searches.”

“We don’t have the same level of data from Instagram/Google. Instagram’s search function does not lend itself to the same search ability; it doesn’t bring up a list of accounts based on a single term like Facebook’s search function does. With Google, our goal was to show examples of Google-served ads; those were identified in news stories on March 18,” he added.

We reached out to Google for comment on the findings and a spokesman told us the company has a dedicated task force that has removed “millions” of ads in the past week alone — which he said had already led to a sharp decrease in face mask ads. But Google said “opportunistic advertisers” had been trying to run “an unprecedented number” of these ads on its platforms.

Here’s Google’s statement:

Since January, we’ve blocked ads for products that aim to capitalise on coronavirus, including a temporary ban on face mask ads. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen opportunistic advertisers try to run an unprecedented number of these ads on our platforms. We have a dedicated task force working to combat this issue and have removed millions of ads in the past week alone. We’re monitoring the situation closely and continue to make real-time adjustments to protect our users.

Google declined to specify how many people it has working to identify and remove mask ads, saying only that the taskforce is made up of members from its product, engineering, enforcement and policy teams — and that it’s been set up with coverage across time zones.

It also said the examples highlighted by TTP are already over a week old and do not reflect the impact of its newest enforcement measures.

The company told us it’s analysing both ad content and how they’re served to enhance its take-down capacity.





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Instagram therapists, and their DMs, are open for business


Instagram Live therapy sessions can be jarring. An iPhone ping occasionally goes off, the therapist forgets to turn off the press conference she was watching before going live, or the sound drops out momentarily. Even beyond the technical difficulties, watching an influencer chat with her therapist feels intrusive and wrong, but, eventually, as the Live levels out and everything works as it should, the therapist can get to the nitty-gritty. Conversation flows, and viewers get to benefit from hearing another person’s anxieties expressed out loud.

Influencer Katie Sands and her therapist Stephanie Lesk started weekly live chats last week for Sands’ more than 200,000 followers. They discuss COVID-19 and the realities of working and living through a pandemic. They talk about financial stress and how strange everything is right now — presumably, feelings other people are working through, too.

Other therapists began bringing COVID-19 content to Instagram a few weeks ago, and as more countries around the world started telling residents to stay home, the volume of accounts posting outbreak-oriented advice grew. Therapists across the US are now offering virtual sessions, open workshops, opening their DMs up for questions, and partnering with influencers to get their messages out. They’re trying to find a way to bring calm to a severely stressful and anxiety-inducing pandemic, especially for people who can’t afford their own therapist.

Katie Sands and her therapist Stephanie Lesk.

“Why not have a conversation about it and just kind of allow people in the room to say, ‘Look, we’ve got to make choices here [about] how we want to move through this thing,’” Lesk said. “You have to find some way to take control of this thing.”

Direct contact with a therapist is one option, and Instagram offers a way for therapists and clients to connect. Jamie Castillo, who leads the Arizona-based therapy group Find Your Shine, piloted a virtual support group for Arizona residents this week, advertising it on her popular Instagram account. The group gives people a place to “focus on self-soothing strategies and empowerment, rather than talking about the pandemic and perpetuating fear.” It costs $20 per person.

“During this time, we’re going to also try and delicately talk about the silver lining that we can take in terms of increasing empathy for people around us and focusing on the collective good versus every man for himself kind of mentality,” she says.

Castillo’s Instagram account also offers supportive posts and advice on topics such as infertility, relationship conflict, and trauma. But recently, her posts have a different, more targeted purpose: helping people through quarantine. She only addresses COVID-19 by name several times while the rest of her posts center on the idea of cancellations, social distancing, and media overexposure.

“What’s cool with Instagram is to obviously not act as a replacement for therapy, but to kind of close those gaps and reduce those barriers that people all over the world face when it comes to getting mental health care,” Castillo says. Her posts can’t apply to everyone at once, “but people have said the posts make them think about things in a different way or encourage them to give themselves grace.”

Instagram also allows therapists to share how they’re able to help, says Alyssa Lia Mancao, a therapist in Los Angeles. “People normally see therapists as kind of this thing that happens behind closed doors,” she says. “You don’t really know what’s going on; you don’t really know what it’s like. It’s something that we don’t talk about as much as we should.”

Mancao pivoted her content to topics that speak more directly to the crisis. The pandemic pushed her to go live on her own page where she took questions from viewers, and she’s planning to take over the Stories of a separate, finance-oriented account, The Financial Diet, to reach its followers and give mental health tips.

“Most [therapists] aren’t taking any new clients right now and don’t want to start out a relationship through a video,” Mancao said. “Being able to provide at least this information through Instagram, it’s really helpful for the people who haven’t had the luxury to be in therapy and get to therapy right now.”

Governments and organizations have recognized how important mental health is during this crisis, too. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week that more than 6,000 mental health professionals signed up to assist people via a public hotline, which he encouraged people to call into to talk through their feelings. UNICEF published an article highlighting ways in which teenagers can care for their mental health.

Other therapists are using Instagram to advertise their services, knowing there’s a need. Instagram gives therapists the ability to market themselves and their messages widely, making it an important platform for independent therapists trying to find new clients.

Hilary Weinstein, a therapist in New York City, has advertised on influencers’ pages before and has started doing so again as she plans to expand her practice. In the past, she reached out to meme accounts, like @sobasicicanteven, and offered to pay them to share posts advertising her services. This time around, she’s doing the same thing. We Met At Acme, a popular Instagram account and podcast, reposted her because of a partnership. She says these posts have resulted in many people reaching out to her, although with insurance and figuring out whether they’re a good match, that number can dwindle.

Online therapy had already been growing, Weinstein says, and the pandemic’s unknown length will help it grow. “That kind of sparked a lot of anxiety in and of itself, like how long am I going to have to be alone and be alone with my thoughts?” Weinstein says. “That’s never healthy, especially so for extended periods of time, so I think it just really lends itself to the whole teletherapy trend that was kind of on the rise anyway.”

Instagram therapy isn’t a substitute for an actual person giving care, these therapists say, but it’s a step toward destigmatizing mental health, and it gives people a clearer idea of how they can care for themselves during this challenging time.

“A lot of people feel ready to go to therapy, but not a lot of people have the privilege, you know, financially, [they] can’t go to therapy,” Mancao says. “There’s so much stigma about therapy in different cultures and different families, but I think that being able to follow a therapist on Instagram bridges that barrier and really helps people connect to information that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise.”



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Xur location and inventory, March 27-30


By Stephany Nunneley,
Friday, 27 March 2020 18:24 GMT

Xur is back this week in Destiny 2 with new items for sale.

As sure as the sun rises in the east, Xur has returned and wants to trade items for shards.

This week you can find your man in the EDZ at Winding Cove.  In his bag, you will find a submachine gun, two sets of chest armor, and a helmet.

Be sure to grab what you want before the reset hits on Tuesday, March 31.

Xur

Xur inventory for March March 27-30

The Exotic Weapon this week is The Huckleberry, an SMG released with the Warmind Expansion. Like other Exotics in the game, a Masterwork Catalyst slot can be filled. You can unlock the slot for this SMG through Heroic Adventure completions. The Catalyst method with this weapon is Enemy kills, and once applied, it will add the “rapid kills to magazine” before reloading perk.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.





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Vergecast: MacBook Air and iPad Pro reviews and how COVID-19 is affecting tech companies


Two new Apple product reviews published on our site and our YouTube channel this week: the 2020 versions of the MacBook Air and the iPad Pro, reviewed by Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel and executive editor Dieter Bohn, respectively.

Nilay and Dieter also co-host The Verge’s podcast The Vergecast, so on this week’s episode, they dive into those reviews and compare how each managed their workloads on a practical day-to-day basis. What is the computer to buy in 2020 for the average consumer?

But before all of that, this week marked a visible change in how tech companies are handling the coronavirus pandemic. Zoom is transforming from an enterprise app to an essential consumer app, handling everything from work-from-home calls to family video chats, Amazon’s warehouse workers are petitioning to improve safety measures in their facilities, and streaming apps like Disney Plus, YouTube, and Netflix are reducing streaming quality as internet traffic increases. The Vergecast tackles how these reactions from the tech and culture sections of the world are changing the ways we use the internet.

There’s a whole lot more in between all of that — like a Dell app that can mirror your iPhone on your PC, Huawei releasing the P40 Pro, and Paul’s weekly segment “It’s my year of the Linux desktop, boys” — so listen through here or in your favorite podcast app to hear it all.

Stories discussed this week:



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