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Frontier Announces Jurassic World Evolution: Return To Jurassic Park

During today’s X019 Inside Xbox stream, Frontier Developments debuted a trailer for a new expansion for Jurassic World Evolution. The trailer for Return to Jurassic Park gives us all kinds of nostalgic feelings, and makes us want to rewatch the first two Jurassic Park movies.

Frontier didn’t divulge too much about the upcoming expansion in the announcement trailer, but it did give us a release date. Jurassic World Evolution: Return to Jurassic Park releases on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on December 10. If you want to learn more about Return to Jurassic Park, come back on November 26 for hands-on impressions!


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The best wireless headphones to buy right now

True wireless earbuds are getting most of the spotlight these days, but there are always cases where tried-and-true over-ear wireless headphones are going to win out. Noise cancellation is one such advantage; though the technology is increasingly making its way into more wireless earbuds, there’s no beating full-size headphones if you want to truly hush your surroundings and enjoy your music without any distractions. Wrap them around your head, and you can escape any nearby ruckus like the constant hum of an airplane cabin or the buzz of a coffee shop.

Unfortunately, buying a great pair of headphones — especially with noise cancellation, which you’ll want in your everyday, take-everywhere pair — means spending a lot of money, with most good options ranging between $300 and $400. But can you really put a price on peace and quiet or making long-haul flights more bearable? I regularly use them to fall asleep a little easier — with nothing playing at all.

If you’re investing that much, you’ll want a set of headphones that sound good, can be worn comfortably for hours on end, and are durable enough to be a travel companion. Most high-end wireless headphones have made the switch to USB-C at this point, and they all offer lengthy battery life that should last through your travels. But there’s still a clear first-place pick for consumers who want a reliable pair with great noise canceling powers and good-enough sound quality.

Best overall: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Bose is the company that built its name on noise-canceling headphones. And while competitors like Sony have done a commendable job catching up over the last few years, Bose still pieces everything together in the best overall package. The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are the follow-up to Bose’s QuietComfort 35 cans that have become an essential piece of kit for frequent flyers or subway commuters. They’ve been completely redesigned with a more modern look, but retain the lightweight fit and exemplary comfort of the old headphones.

The NCH700s can be paired with two devices simultaneously — a great feature if you’re multitasking between a phone and laptop or tablet. You can adjust the level of noise cancellation to your preference, and at the highest setting, these headphones have no equal. It’s like hitting mute on the outside world. Battery life is 20 hours, which is firmly average these days, but plenty for any travel situation.

Bose made an effort to improve voice call quality on the NCH700s, and this is another area where they’re best in class. If you rarely chat with people while wearing headphones, this might not be a big draw. But if you’ll be breaking up your music with conference calls, these are about the only cans I’d trust to do it aside from Jabra’s Elite 85h headphones.

In a departure from previous models, Bose moved away from most physical buttons in favor of gesture controls on the right ear cup. The new system takes some practice, but works reliably without detracting from the user experience.

The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 retain Bose’s neutral, well-balanced sound quality with a little extra kick of bass. You can expect good clarity and detail, but the soundstage is where Bose could stand to improve; noise cancellation brings you closer to your music, but that music isn’t as enveloping here as with other high-end headphones.

Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

If you’d prefer headphones that prioritize sound quality over noise cancellation effectiveness, Sennheiser’s third-gen Momentum Wireless headphones are the best option. With cushy leather ear pads and the company’s warm, clear, and immersive sound signature, the Momentum 3s offer a blissful listening experience — and you’d hope so for their price.

They automatically power on when unfolded and pause music if you take them off. The Momentums also support a nice range of codecs including SBC, AAC, AptX, and AptX Low Latency, which is supposed to eliminate any noticeable audio delay when watching videos. Unfortunately, in some apps like YouTube, I’ve encountered sync issues, so the Sennheisers are still best suited for music more than movies.

They can’t cut down on outside clamor to the same level as Bose’s headphones, but come close enough for my liking. Still, Bose gets so much right (comfort, noise cancellation, voice calls) for less money that I think the Sennheisers will only appeal to those who demand better than “good” for sound quality.

Two other nice touches about the Momentum Wireless 3s: they have Tile integration so you can track them just like any keys or bag with an attached Tile accessory, and you can listen to them wired over USB-C in addition to the standard headphone jack, which is something the Bose headphones can’t do.

The others

Sony’s 1000XM3 headphones are right up there with Bose in terms of noise canceling and some prefer their sound quality. But they’ve got to be nearing a refresh pretty soon, so only buy them if you can find a great deal. Microsoft’s dial controls on the Surface Headphones are brilliant and something that other companies should shamelessly copy, but the headphones themselves offer just so-so sound quality. If you’re looking for another audiophile-geared pair, the new Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are a significant improvement over the old PX headphones. They’re now much lighter and more comfortable thanks to a revamped design that includes carbon fiber arms. And the new Beats Solo Pros are the company’s best headphones yet, but they can get uncomfortable over time.

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Dutch court orders Facebook to ban celebrity crypto scam ads after another lawsuit – TechCrunch

A Dutch court has ruled that Facebook can be required to use filter technologies to identify and pre-emptively take down fake ads linked to crypto currency scams that carry the image of a media personality, John de Mol, and other well known celebrities.

The Dutch celerity filed a lawsuit against Facebook in April over the misappropriation of his and other celebrities’ likeness to shill Bitcoin scams via fake ads run on its platform.

In an immediately enforceable preliminary judgement today the court has ordered Facebook to remove all offending ads within five days, and provide data on the accounts running them within a week.

Per the judgement, victims of the crypto scams had reported a total of €1.7 million (~$1.8M) in damages to the Dutch government at the time of the court summons.

The case is similar to a legal action instigated by UK consumer advice personality, Martin Lewis, last year, when he announced defamation proceedings against Facebook — also for misuse of his image in fake ads for crypto scams. Lewis withdrew the suit at the start of this year after Facebook agreed to apply new measures to tackle the problem: Namely a scam ads report button. It also agreed to provide funding to a UK consumer advice organization to set up a scam advice service.

In the de Mol case the lawsuit was allowed to run its course — resulting in today’s preliminary judgement against Facebook.

It’s not yet clear whether the company will appeal but in the wake of the ruling Facebook has said it will bring the scam ads report button to the Dutch market early next month.

In court, the platform giant sought to argue that it could not more proactively remove the Bitcoin scam ads containing celebrities’ images on the grounds that doing so would breach EU law against general monitoring conditions being placed on Internet platforms.

However the court rejected that argument, citing a recent ruling by Europe’s top court related to platform obligations to remove hate speech, also concluding that the specificity of the requested measures could not be classified as ‘general obligations of supervision’.

It also rejected arguments by Facebook’s lawyers that restricting the fake scam ads would be restricting the freedom of expression of a natural person, or the right to be freely informed — pointing out that the ‘expressions’ involved are aimed at commercial gain, as well as including fraudulent practices.

Facebook also sought to argue it is already doing all it can to identify and take down the fake scam ads — saying too that its screening processes are not perfect. But the court said there’s no requirement for 100% effectiveness for additional proactive measures to be ordered.

Its ruling further notes a striking reduction in fake scam ads using de Mol’s image since the lawsuit was announced

Facebook’s argument that it’s just a neutral platform was also rejected, with the court pointing out that its core business is advertising. It also took the view that requiring Facebook to apply technically complicated measures and extra effort, including in terms of manpower and costs, to more effectively remove offending scam ads is not unreasonable in this context.

The judgement orders Facebook to remove fake scam ads containing celebrity likenesses from Facebook and Instagram within five days of the order — with a penalty of €10k per day that Facebook fails to comply with the order, up to a maximum of €1M (~$1.1M).

The court order also requires that Facebook provides data to the affected celebrity on the accounts that had been misusing their likeness within seven days of the judgement, with a further penalty of €1k per day for failure to comply, up to a maximum of €100k.

Facebook has also been ordered to pay the case costs.

Responding to the judgement in a statement, a Facebook spokesperson told us:

We have just received the ruling and will now look at its implications. We will consider all legal actions, including appeal. Importantly, this ruling does not change our commitment to fighting these types of ads. We cannot stress enough that these types of ads have absolutely no place on Facebook and we remove them when we find them. We take this very seriously and will therefore make our scam ads reporting form available in the Netherlands in early December. This is an additional way to get feedback from people, which in turn helps train our machine learning models. It is in our interest to protect our users from fraudsters and when we find violators we will take action to stop their activity, up to and including taking legal action against them in court.

One legal expert describes the judgement as “pivotal“. Law professor Mireille Hildebrandt told us that it provides for as an alternative legal route for Facebook users to litigate and pursue collective enforcement of European personal data rights. Rather than suing for damages — which entails a high burden of proof.

Injunctions are faster and more effective, Hildebrandt added.

“It clearly demonstrates that Facebook is an advertising platform that can be held liable under Dutch tort law for not taking adequate measure to remove fake ads, provided certain conditions apply (such as that the request for an injunction is sufficiently specific),” she said. “It also clearly demonstrates that filing an injunction to stop unlawful behaviour based on tort law can be very efficient, without having to prove damages, because the injunction can be enforced by way of penalty payments for each day that it is not complied with.”

“I believe that this is the kind of action Member State should enable under art. 79 GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] in the case of unlawful processing of personal data,” Hildebrandt added.

“Art. 80 GDPR allows data subjects to mandate their right to file such an injunction to a dedicated NGO (thus enabling collective action). This is not the case for a tort actions suing for damages, in that case the GDPR leaves it up to the Member States whether or not to allow such mandating. On top of that suing for damages is very cumbersome in the case of unlawful processing, because it is usually very difficult to prove damages and to prove causality.”

The judgement also raises questions around the burden of proof for demonstrating Facebook has removed scam ads with sufficient (increased) accuracy; and what specific additional measures it might deploy to improve its takedown rate.

Although the introduction of the ‘report scam ad button’ does provide one clear avenue for measuring takedown performance.

The button was finally rolled out to the UK market in July. And while Facebook has talked since the start of this year about ‘envisaging’ introducing it in other markets it hasn’t exactly been proactive in doing so — up til now, with this court order. 

This report was updated with additional comment 

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Final Fantasy And Yakuza Games Are Coming To Xbox Game Pass

Today at X019, Microsoft announced over 50 games that will be added to its Xbox Game Pass subscription service starting today and moving into 2020. The biggest additions are most of the numbered Final Fantasy games, three Yakuza titles (which will also be sold separately for people without Game Pass), and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Here’s everything that is getting added and subtracted:

Games available today
Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition (PC)
Age of Wonders: Planetfall (Xbox One, coming soon to PC)
Hearts of Iron IV: Cadet Edition (PC)
Lego: The Ninjago Movie (Xbox One)
Rage 2 (Xbox One, coming soon to PC)
Remnant: From the Ashes (Xbox One)
The Talos Principle (Xbox One, PC)
Tracks: The Train Set Game (Xbox One, PC)

Games coming soon and in 2020
Bleeding Edge (Xbox One, PC)
Carrion (Xbox One, PC)
Cris Tales (Xbox One, PC)
Cyber Shadow (Xbox One, PC)
Darksiders III (Xbox One, PC)
Double Kick Heroes (Xbox One, PC)
Edge of Eternity (Xbox One, PC)
The Escapists 2 (Xbox One)
Final Fantasy VII (Xbox One, PC)
Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered (Xbox One, PC)
Final Fantasy IX (Xbox One, PC)
Final Fantasy X: HD Remastered (Xbox One, PC)
Final Fantasy X-2: HD Remastered (Xbox One, PC)
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (Xbox One, PC)
Final Fantasy XIII (Xbox One, PC)
Final Fantasy XIII-2 (Xbox One, PC)
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (Xbox One, PC)
Final Fantasy XV (Xbox One, PC)
Forager (Xbox One, PC)
Grounded (Xbox One, PC)
Haven (Xbox One, PC)
It Lurks Below (Xbox One, PC)
Levelhead (Xbox One, PC)
Life is Strange 2: Episodes 4 & 5 (Xbox One)
Microsoft Flight Simulator (PC)
Minecraft Dungeons (Xbox One, PC)
My Friend Pedro (Xbox One, PC)
Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Xbox One, PC)
PHOGS (Xbox One, PC)
The Red Lantern (Xbox One)
The Red Strings Club (PC)
Scourge Bringer (Xbox One, PC)
She Dreams Elsewhere (Xbox One, PC)
SkateBIRD (Xbox One, PC)
Streets of Rage 4 (Xbox One, PC)
Supraland (Xbox One)
Tekken 7 (Xbox One)
Tell Me Why (Xbox One, PC)
Touhou Luna Nights (Xbox One, PC)
Vambrace: Cold Soul (Xbox One, PC)
Wasteland 3 (Xbox One, PC)
West of Dead (Xbox One, PC)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Xbox One)
Yakuza Zero (Xbox One, PC)
Yakuza Kiwami (Xbox One, PC)
Yakuza Kiwami 2 (Xbox One, PC)

Games Leaving Xbox Game Pass On November 30
Abzu (Xbox One, PC)
Below (Xbox One)
Football Manager 2019 (PC)
GRID 2 (Xbox One)
Kingdom Two Crowns (Xbox One)
Strange Brigade (Xbox One)

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Microsoft is killing off its Cortana app for iOS and Android in January

Microsoft has revealed that it’s planning to kill off its Cortana app for iOS and Android in January. The software maker has posted a new support article for Cortana users in the UK, Canada, and Australia that reveals Cortana for iOS and Android is disappearing in at least those markets. Microsoft has also confirmed to The Verge that the Cortana app will disappear in the UK, Australia, Germany, Mexico, China, Spain, Canada, and India on January 31st.

“Cortana is an integral part of our broader vision to bring the power of conversational computing and productivity to all our platforms and devices,” says a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. “To make Cortana as helpful as possible, we’re integrating Cortana deeper into your Microsoft 365 productivity apps, and part of this evolution involves ending support for the Cortana mobile app on Android and iOS.”

It’s not clear how much longer the Cortana for iOS and Android app will continue to operate in the US after January 31st. A Microsoft spokesperson simply tells us that currently it’s still supported in the US. The full support note also reveals that Cortana will be disappearing from Microsoft’s Android Launcher app after January 31st in the affected markets.

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Microsoft’s Cortana app is also used to configure settings and update the firmware for devices like the company’s Surface Headphones. Microsoft has not mentioned how Surface Headphones owners in the UK and elsewhere will continue to get access to these features.

Microsoft originally launched Cortana for iOS and Android back in December 2015, and it was originally designed to connect Windows 10 PCs and mobile phones. Despite a big redesign, Microsoft has failed to compete with other digital assistants on phone and elsewhere. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella revealed earlier this year that the company no longer sees Cortana as a competitor to Alexa and Google Assistant.

Microsoft is now focused on integrating Cortana into more business-focused parts of Microsoft 365. Cortana is also being integrated directly into Outlook for iOS and Android so it can read emails aloud on the go.

Here’s the full support note from Microsoft’s UK site:

To make your personal digital assistant as helpful as possible, we’re integrating Cortana into your Microsoft 365 productivity apps. As part of this evolution, on January 31st, 2020, we’re ending support for the Cortana app on Android and iOS in your market. At that point, the Cortana content you created–such as reminders and lists–will no longer function in the Cortana mobile app or Microsoft Launcher, but can still be accessed through Cortana on Windows. Also, Cortana reminders, lists, and tasks are automatically synced to the Microsoft To Do app, which you can download to your phone for free.

After January 31st, 2020, the Cortana mobile app on your phone will no longer be supported and there will be an updated version of Microsoft Launcher with Cortana removed.

Update, November 16th 6:50PM ET: Article updated with Microsoft confirmation on regions affected.

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Instagram tests hiding Like counts globally – TechCrunch

Instagram is making Like counts private for some users everywhere. Instagram tells TechCrunch the hidden Likes test is expanding to a subset of people globally. Users will have to decide for themselves if something is worth Liking rather than judging by the herd. The change could make users more comfortable sharing what’s important to them without the fear of publicly receiving an embarrassingly small number of Likes.

Instagram began hiding Likes in April in Canada, then brought the test to Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand in July. Facebook started a similar experiment in Australia in September. Instagram said last week the test would expand to the U.S., but now it’s running everywhere to a small percentage of users in each country. Instagram tweets that feedback to the experiment so far has been positive, but it’s continuing to test because it’s such a fundamental change to the app.

Instagram wants its app to be a place people feel comfortable expressing themselves, and can focus on photos and videos they share rather than how many Likes they get, a spokesperson tells TechCrunch. Users can still see who Liked their own posts and a total count by tapping on the Likers list. Viewers of a post will only see a few names of mutual friends who Liked it. They can tap through to view the Likers list but would have to manually count them.

The expansion raises concerns that the test could hurt influencers and creators after a study by HypeAuditor found many of them of various levels of popularity lost 3% to 15% of their Likes in countries where Instagram hid the counts.

Instagram tells me it understands Like counts are important to many creators, and it’s actively working on ways that influencers will be able to communicate their value to partners. As Like counts won’t be public, influencer marketing agencies must rely on self-reported screenshots from creators that could be Photoshopped to score undue rewards.

Without even privately visible counts, agencies won’t be able verify a post got enough engagement to warrant payment. Instagram may need to offer some sort of private URL, partner dashboard or API creators can share with agencies that reveals Like counts.

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said last week at Wired25 that “We will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s well-being and health.” Hidden Like counts might reduce overall ad spend on Instagram if businesses feel it’s less important to rack up engagement and look popular. But it might also shift spend from influencer marketing that goes directly into the pockets of creators toward official Instagram ads, thereby earning the company more money.

An Instagram spokesperson provided this statement to TechCrunch:

Starting today, we’re expanding our test of private like counts to the rest of the world beyond Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, and New Zealand. If you’re in the test, you’ll no longer see the total number of likes and views on photos and videos posted to Feed unless they’re your own. While the feedback from early testing has been positive, this is a fundamental change to Instagram, and so we’re continuing our test to learn more from our global community.

This is perhaps the final step of testing before Instagram might officially launch the change and hide Like counts for all users everywhere. It’s surely watching closely to determine how the test improves mental health, but also how it impacts usage of the app.

Hiding Likes is probably a win for the sanity of humanity, and a boon to creativity. Before, people often self-censored and declined to share posts they worried wouldn’t get enough Likes, or deleted posts that didn’t. They’d instinctually bend their public persona toward manicured selfies and images that made their life look glamorous, rather than what was authentic or that they wanted to communicate. Meanwhile, viewers would see high Like counts on friends’ or influencers’ posts, compare those to their own smaller Like counts and feel ashamed or inadequate.

Putting an end to the popularity contest might lead people to share more unconventional, silly or artsy posts regardless of their public reception. That could make Instagram’s content more diverse, surprising and alluring over time versus an increasingly stale aesthetic of perfection. Hidden counts might also decrease the need for “Finstagram” accounts, aka fake Insta profiles that users spin up to share what might not receive as many Likes.

While Facebook is credited for inventing the Like button, it’s Instagram that institutionalized the red heart icon that Twitter eventually adopted, and codified public approval into a concentrated dopamine hit. Instagram turning against Like counts could start a larger shift in the social media industry toward prioritizing more qualitative enjoyment of sharing, instead of obsessing over the quantification of validation.

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GI Show – Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Pokémon Sword & Shield, Game of the Year Chats

On this week’s episode of The Game Informer Show podcast, we shuffle the deck – literally – as we record the episode out of order and confuse the host (cause that’s the level of production we aim for here at GI). But one thing is certain, the show starts with Andy Reiner and Matt Miller talking Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

Next up, Jeff Cork and I sit down to hear stories from Leo Vader and Ben Reeves about some recent travels to see Rainbow Six Siege and a new game Obsidian Entertainment called Grounded. While we have Leo on the show, we also talk a little about the recent release of Red Dead Redemption II to PC. 

You have heard of Pokémon right? A wild Ben Reeves, Alex Stadnik, and Brian Shea appear to talk about the upcoming Switch releases, Sword and Shield.

In this week’s community email segment Kim Wallace, Jeff Cork, and Ben Reeves answer questions about co-op, help build a video game Mount Rushmore, and we help a reader through a tough time.

And finally, I sit down with Jeff Cork, Dan “The Jacket” Tack, and Ben Reeves to hear their thoughts on what games they think are in the running for their games of the year. This segment will run the rest of the year as we bring in new editors every week to talk about games that have impacted their year as we lead up to Game Informer’s Top 50 in the new year. 

Thanks for listening! Please make sure to leave feedback below, share the episode if you enjoyed it, and follow me @therealandymc to let me know what you think. 

You can watch the video above, subscribe and listen to the audio on iTunes or Google Playlisten on SoundCloudstream it on Spotify, or download the MP3 at the bottom of the page. Also, be sure to send your questions to podcast@gameinformer.com for a chance to have them answered on the show.

Our thanks to the talented Super Marcato Bros. for The Game Informer Show’s intro song. You can hear more of their original tunes and awesome video game music podcast at their website.

To jump to a particular point in the discussion, check out the time stamps below.

2:12 – Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
34:33 – Rainbow Six Siege: Shifting Tides
40:22 – Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC
51:52 – Grounded, Obsidian’s new game
1:02:50 – Pokémon Sword & Shield
1:29:11 – Community Emails
2:15:16 – Game of the Year Chats Pt. 1 – Featuring Jeff Cork, Ben Reeves, and Dan “The Jacket” Tack

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New trailers: Sonic the Hedgehog, Harley Quinn, Invisible Man, and more

I watched The Lego Movie 2 a few weeks ago now that it’s finally streaming. The first one was an unexpectedly smart and hilarious take on what a Lego story can be, and this second one does a good job of keeping up the momentum. The film is funny, and it still grounds the whole thing in a story about family and growing up.

That said, I do think there’s an odd tension within the movie. The sequel wants to tell a story about toxic masculinity and supporting traditionally feminine interests, but to do that, it kind of makes a joke of them first. Likewise, the film acknowledges related issues like how the original movie played into the trope about an incompetent man becoming the hero thanks to guidance from a fully competent woman… but then immediately follows that up by having the incompetent man have to rescue said woman once again.

In the end, I love where the sequel lands and how many surprising topics it touches in the process (flipping around “Everything is Awesome,” for instance). But I can’t help but wonder how else this same story could have been told, given a perspective that just flat-out supports its female characters from the start.

Check out seven trailers from this week (okay, one is from last week) below.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Studios have to contend with a lot of fan backlash, often for the wrong reasons. But this is one of the instances where the studio was truly out of touch — the original Sonic design was, without question, off-putting and bizarre. This week, we finally got a look at the redesigned character, and hey, it looks like Sonic! Now we just have to deal with the rest of the film. It comes out on, um, Valentine’s Day?

Harley Quinn

DC is making a Harley Quinn show for its DC Universe streaming service. The first few seconds of this trailer are a boring reminder that Batman and other famous characters are going to show up, but after that the trailer gives a much better sense of how this character is being updated for 2019, with, for instance, a very unexpected yet responsible HPV joke from Bane. The show comes out November 29th.

The Invisible Man

I missed this one last week. The Invisible Man was originally supposed to be part of Universal’s obviously doomed “Dark Universe” of interconnected classic monster movies, but the studio scaled that effort way back after a series of flops. That’s led The Invisible Man to a less flashy and likely better place, with the movie becoming something of a psychological horror film about abuse and failure to believe women, with Elisabeth Moss as the star. (Though it looks very bloody and filled with over-the-top fight scenes, too.) The movie comes out February 28th.

Knives and Skin

Jennifer Reeder’s new film is filled with a surprising amount of bright colors and friendly shapes for what’s actually a dark thriller under the surface. The film has been getting positive reviews out of festivals, and it comes out on December 6th.


I will admit that, on its own, this trailer is not that engaging — even if it does have some great imagery in it. What makes this worth checking out is this: if you check the IMDb page for Away, you’ll only find a single name: Gints Zilbalodis, who wrote, directed, edited, scored, and so on, the entire movie. It comes out November 29th.


If you’ve ever taken a film course or spent time around people who talk about the Criterion Collection, you’ve probably seen Breathless, and you can probably recognize Jean Seberg. I had no idea that beyond her film career, she became a civil rights activist targeted by the FBI for her support of the Black Panthers. It’s a fascinating story, though I do hope this film contends with the fact that it makes a white woman the focus of a piece set within a black revolutionary movement. It comes out December 13th.

6 Underground

This movie is directed by Michael Bay. And all I can really say is: …………what on earth?

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PR pitch to Ola reveals the inner workings of UK ride-hailing politics – TechCrunch

A UK PR firm pitching to run an account for Ola has proposed running a campaign to politicize ride-hailing as a tactic to shift regulations in its favor.

The approach suggests that, despite the appearance of ride-hailing platforms taking a more conciliatory position with regulators that are now wise to earlier startup tactics in this space, there remains a calculus involving realpolitik, propaganda and high-level lobbying between companies that want to enter or expand in markets, and those who hold the golden tickets to do so.

In 2017 Estonia-based ride-hailing startup Taxify tried to launch in London ahead of regulatory approval, for example, but city authorities clamped down straight away. It was only able to return to the UK capital 21 months later (now known as Bolt).

In Western markets ride-hailing companies are facing old and new regulatory roadblocks that are driving up costs and creating barriers to growth. In some instances unfavorable rule changes have even led companies to pull out of cities or regions all together. Even as there are ongoing questions around the employment classification of the drivers these platforms depend on to deliver a service.

The PR pitch, made by a Tufton Street-based PR firm called Public First, suggests Ola tackle legislative friction in UK regions with a policy influence campaign targeted at local voters.

The SoftBank-backed Indian ride-hailing startup launched in the U.K. in August, 2018 and currently offers services in a handful of regional locations including South Wales, Merseyside and the West Midlands. Most recently it gained a licence to operate in London, and last month launched services in Coventry and Warwick — saying then that passengers in the UK had clocked up more than one million trips since its launch.

Manchester is also on its target list — and features as a focus in the strategy proposal — though an Ola spokesman told us it has no launch date for the city yet. The company met with Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, during a trade mission to India last month.

The Public First proposal suggests a range of strategies for Ola to get local authorities and local politicians on-side, and thus avoid problems in potential and future operations, including the use of engagement campaigns and digital targeting to mobilize select coalitions around politicized, self-serving talking points — such as claims that public transport is less safe and convenient; or that air quality improves if fewer people drive into the city — in order to generate pressure on regulators to change licensing rules.

Another suggestion is to position the company less as a business, and more as an organization representing tens of thousands of time-poor people.

Public First advocates generally for the use of data- and technology-driven campaign methods, such as microtargeted digital advertising, as more effective than direct lobbying of local government officials — suggesting using digital tools to generate a perception that an issue is politicized will encourage elected representatives to do the heavy lifting of pressuring regulators because they’ll be concerned about losing votes.

The firm describes digital campaign elements as “crucial” to this strategy.

“Through a small, targeted online digital advertising campaign in both cities, local councillors’ email inboxes would begin to fill with requests from a number of different people (students, businesses, and other members of [a commuter advocacy group it proposes setting up to act as a lobby vehicle]) for the local authority to change its approach on local taxi licensing — in effect, to make it easier for Ola to launch,” it offers as a proposed strategy for building momentum behind Ola in Manchester and Liverpool.

Public First confirmed it made the pitch to Ola but told us: “This was merely a routine, speculative proposal of the sort we generate all the time as we meet people.”

“Ola Cabs has no relationship whatsoever with Public First,” it added.

A spokesperson for Ola also confirmed that it does not have a business relationship with Public First. “Ola has never had a relationship with Public First, does not currently have one and nor will it in the future,” the spokesman told us.

“Ola’s approach in the UK has been defined by working closely and collaborating with local authorities and we are committed to being fully licensed in every area we operate,” he added, suggesting the strategy it’s applying is the opposite of what’s being proposed.

We understand that prior to Public First pitching their ideas to a person working in Ola’s comms division, Ola’s director of legal, compliance and regulation, Andrew Winterton, met with the firm over coffee — in an introductory capacity. But that no such tactics were discussed.

It appears that, following first contact, Public First took the initiative to draw up the strategy suggesting politicizing ride-hailing in key target regions which it emailed to Winterton but only presented to a more junior Ola employee in a follow-up meeting the legal director did not attend.

Ola has built a major ride-hailing business in its home market of India — by way of $3.8BN in funding and aggressive competition. Since 2018 it has been taking international steps to fuel additional growth. In the U.K. its approach to date has been fairly low key, going to cities and regional centers outside of high-profile London first, as well as aiming to serve areas with big Indian populations to help recruit riders and drivers.

It’s a strategy that’s likely been informed by being able to view the track record of existing ride-hailing players — and avoid Uber-style regulatory blunders.

The tech giant was dealt a major shock by London’s transport regulator in 2017, when TfL denied it a licence renewal — citing concerns over Uber’s approach to passenger safety and corporate governance, including querying its explanation for using proprietary software that could be used to evade regulatory oversight.

The Uber story looks to be the high water mark for blitzscaling startup tactics that relied on ignoring or brute forcing regulators in the ride-hailing category. Laws and local authorities have largely caught up. The name of the game now is finding ways to get regulators on side.

Propaganda as a service

The fact that strategic proposals such as Public First’s to Ola are considered routine enough to put into a speculative pitch is interesting, given how the lack of transparency around the use of online tools for spreading propaganda is an issue that’s now troubling elected representatives in parliaments all over the world. Tools such as those offered by Facebook’s ad platform.

In Facebook’s case the company provides only limited visibility into who is running political and issue-based ads on its platform. The targeting criteria being used to reach individuals is also not comprehensively disclosed.

Some of the company’s own employees recently went public with concerns that its advanced targeting and behavioral-tracking tools make it “hard for people in the electorate to participate in the public scrutiny that we’re saying comes along with political speech”, as they put it.

At the same time, platforms providing a conduit for corporate interests to cheaply and easily manufacture ‘politicized’ speech looks to be another under-scrutinized risk for democratic societies.

Among the services Public First lists on its website are “policy development”, “qualitative and quantitative opinion research”, “issues-based campaigns”, “coalition-building” and “war gaming”. (Here, for example, is a piece of work the firm carried out for Google — where its analysis-for-hire results in a puffy claim that the tech giant’s digital services are worth at least $70BN in annual “economic value” for the UK.)

Public First’s choice of office location, in Tufton Street, London, is also notable as the area is home to an interlinked hub of right-leaning think tanks, such as the free market Center for Policy Studies and pro-Brexit Initiative for Free Trade. These are lobby vehicles dressed up as policy wonks which put out narratives intended to influence public opinion and legislation in a particular direction without it being clear who their financial backers are.

Some of the publicity strategies involved in this kind of work appear to share similarities with tactics used by Big Tobacco to lobby against anti-smoking legislation, or fossil fuel interests’ funding of disinformation and astroturfing operations to create a perception of doubt around consensus climate science.

“A lot of what used to get sold in this space essentially was access [to policymakers],” says one former public relations professional, speaking on background. “What you’re seeing an increasingly amount of now is the ‘technification’ of that process. Everyone’s using those kinds of tools — clearly in terms of trying to understand public sentiment better and that kind of thing… But essentially what they’re saying is we can set up a set of politicized issues so that they can benefit you. And that’s an interesting change. It’s not just straight defence and attack; promote your brand vs another. It’s ‘okay, we’re going to change the politics around an issue… in order to benefit your outcome’. And that’s fairly sophisticated and interesting.”

Mat Hope, editor of investigative journalism outlet DeSmog — which reports on climate-related misinformation campaigns — has done a lot of work focused on Tufton Street specifically, looking at the impact the network’s ‘policy-costumed’ corporate talking points have had on UK democracy.

“There is a set of organisations based out of offices in and around 55 Tufton Street in Westminster, just around the corner from the Houses of Parliament, which in recent years have had an outsized impact on British democracy. Many of the groups were at the forefront of the Leave campaign, and are now pushing for a hard or no-deal Brexit,” he told us, noting that Public First not only has offices nearby but that its founders and employees “have strong ties to other organisations based there”.

“The groups regularly lobby politicians in the interests of specific companies or big industry through the guise of grassroots or for-the-people campaigns,” he added. “One way they do this is through targeting adverts or social media posts, using groups with benign sounding names. This makes it hard to trace the campaign back to any particular company, and gives the issue an impression of grassroots support that is, on the whole, artificial.”

Platform power without responsibility

Ad platforms such as Facebook which profit by profiling people offer cheap yet powerful tools for corporate interests to identify and target highly specific sub-sets of voters. This is possible thanks to the vast amounts of personal data they collect — an activity that’s finally coming under significant regulatory scrutiny — and custom ad tools such as lookalike audiences, all of which enables behavioral microtargeting at the individual user/voter level.

Lookalike audiences is a powerful ad product that allows Facebook advertisers to upload customer data yet also leverage the company’s pervasive people-profiling to access new audiences that they do not hold data on but who have similar characteristics to their target. These so-called lookalike audiences can be tightly geotargeted, as well as zeroed in on granular interests and demographics. It’s not hard to see how such tools can be applied to selectively hit up only the voters most likely to align with a business’ interests.

The upshot is that an online advertiser is able to pay little to tap into the population-scale reach and vast data wealth of platform giants — turning firehose power against individual voters who they deem — via focus group work or other voter data analysis — to be aligned with a corporate agenda. The platform becomes a propaganda machine for manufacturing the appearance of broad public engagement and grassroots advocacy for a self-interested policy change.

The target voter, meanwhile, is most likely none the wiser about why they’re seeing politicized messaging. It’s that lack of transparency that makes the activity inherently anti-democratic.

The UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee raised Facebook’s lookalike audiences as a risk to democracy during a recent enquiry into online disinformation and digital campaigning. It went on to recommend an outright ban on political microtargeting to lookalike audiences online. Though the UK government has so far failed to act on that or its fuller suite of recommendations. (Nor has Facebook responded to increasingly loud calls from politicians and civic society to ban political and issue ads altogether.)

Even a code of conduct published by the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) emphasizes transparency — with member organizations committing to “be open and transparent in declaring their name, organisation and the interest they represent”. (Albeit, the IPRA’s member list is not itself public.)

While online targeting of social media users remains a major problem for democracies, on account of the lack of transparency and individual consent to targeting (or, indeed, to data-based profiling), in recent years we’ve also seen more direct efforts by companies to use their own technology tools to generate voter pressure.

Examples such as ride-hailing giant Uber which, under its founding CEO, Travis Kalanick, became well known for a ‘push button’ approach to mobilizing its user base by sending calls to action to lobby against unfavorable regulatory changes.

Airbnb has also sought to use its platform-reach to beat against local authority rule changes that threaten its ‘home sharing’ business model.

However it’s the opaque tech-fuelled targeting enabled by ad platforms like Facebook that’s far more problematic for democracies as it allows vested interests to generate self-interested pressure remotely — including from abroad — while remaining entirely shielded from view.

Fixing this will require regulatory muscle to enforce existing laws around personal data collection (at least where such laws exist) — and doing so in a way that prevents microtargeting from being the cheap advertising default. Democracies should not allow their citizens to be mirrored in the data because it sets them up to be hollowed out; their individuals aggregated, classified and repackaged as all-you-can-eat attention units for whoever is paying.

And likely also legislation to set firm boundaries around the use of political and campaigning/issue ads online. Turning platform power against the individual is inherently asymmetrical. It’s never going to be a fair fight. So fair ground rules for digital political campaigning — and a proper oversight regime to enforce them — are absolutely essential.

Another democratic tonic is transparency. Which means raising awareness about tech-fuelled tactics that are designed to generate and exploit data-based asymmetries in order to hack and manipulate public opinion. Such skewed stuff only really works when the target is oblivious to what’s afoot. In that respect, every little disclosure of these ‘dark arts’ and the platforms that enable them provides a much-needed counter boost for critical thinking and democracy.

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Standing Up – Game Informer

When Manveer Heir left BioWare in 2017 after working on the Mass Effect franchise as a senior gameplay designer, he was burned out. He had been making games for a dozen years, putting in the time during crunch and enduring the wrath of Gamergaters for his beliefs. Like he had done at times during his career, he contemplated walking away from making video games entirely, but he knew he wasn’t done yet.

Heir took some time off in New York figuring out his next move, and reconnected with a deep-seated ambition to form his own video game company – a dream he held since he was in the 10th grade when he drew up his own business plan.

In order to craft the kinds of stories he wanted to tell and address some of the issues he experienced in the video game industry, Heir founded his own studio. Heir’s experiences with the Mass Effect franchise and companies the size of Electronic Arts exposed him to systemic problems that interfered with his goal of surfacing stories of characters of color and different backgrounds created by diverse developers.

From left to right: Manveer Heir, Founder, chief visionary officer; Rashad Redic, Founder, chief creative officer; Bryna Dabby Smith, Founder, chief executive officer

Heir reached out to Bryna Dabby Smith, an industry veteran with deep experience managing projects like Sleeping Dogs, for help with the business side of the venture, and word circulated of what Heir was putting together.

This prompted Rashad Redic, previously an environment artist at Bethesda, to get in contact with Heir. A six-hour conversation later, Heir had solidified his nucleus for Brass Lion Entertainment around the three of them and started the ball rolling on the company’s first project: Corner Wolves, a game exploring the personal effects of the U.S. government’s self-proclaimed War on Drugs in ’90s Harlem.

Brass Lion was created to tell stories you won’t get from most studios because it’s not setup like most studios. Brass Lion wants to actively hire developers of color and other diverse backgrounds, consciously bucking the trend of male whiteness.

A survey of developers in 2017 by the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) reported that 71 percent of respondents identified as white or multiracial with white, 79 percent were male, and 86 percent were heterosexual. Furthermore, while 81 percent said they felt diversity in the workplace was important, only 42 percent felt diversity was actually increasing – down from 47 percent in 2016.

Change is slow because institutions are inherently structured to preserve their status quo. There may be individuals, and even whole departments, that are sympathetic to hiring developers from diverse backgrounds, but there is a barrier of in-group selection that slows down progress.

“Something that people say is, ‘Well, we just hire the best people,’” Heir says. “But when you look at the research you find out that meritocracy is kind of a lie. People really hire people that look like them, and they use words like ‘culture fit’ or ‘not a culture fit’ to push out people who maybe don’t fit in but have a diversity of ideas.”

Hiring people with different backgrounds has a knock-on effect of better quality. Heir mentions Harvard Business Review articles based on research that says that mixed teams produce better results because they naturally question each other more and have less group-think that may stifle innovation. “You start to check each other’s biases,” Heir explains. “You don’t just nod your head and go, ‘Yup, that first idea is the best one,’ because everybody is coming at it from a different angle.”

From these different experiences comes a different kind of game. Corner Wolves’ story is about Jacinte, a young Afro-Latina living in Harlem and working at her father’s bodega. One evening Jacinte returns to find him murdered in front of the store. The game is Jacinte’s attempt to find out who killed him and why, but the themes layered underneath run deeper.

If you think how racism works in the real world, it’s embedded in all of our real systems.

Manveer Heir

Harlem was particularly affected by drugs during the 1990s when the game takes place. Both community leaders and politicians called for action to clean up the drug problem, but the increasing law-and-order approaches were neither taking care of the problem nor serving the community. In the ’70s, New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, who once favored rehabilitation, turned to a tough-on-crime approach. President Reagan signed into law more mandatory minimums and cemented them with the narrative of an urban crack epidemic. President Clinton increased mass incarceration of even low-level offenders with his 1994 crime bill.

The effect this had on Harlem and the ethnic communities therein exposed the systemic racism of the U.S. justice system. Research contemporary to the game’s setting as well as countless studies since have clearly shown there are racial disparities when it comes to the arrest and conviction rates, as well as sentencing lengths, of blacks as opposed to whites committing the same crimes.

One prominent example of racial disparities in relation to the War on Drugs is the infamous 100-to-1 rule established in 1986, specifying mandatory minimum sentences for specific quantities of cocaine. This said that distribution of five grams of crack resulted in a minimum five-year federal prison sentence, while it took 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same minimum sentencing, even though the chemical composition and effect of either form of cocaine is appreciably the same. Blacks were specifically targeted since they were more likely to use crack than affluent whites, who used powdered cocaine.

This large-scale history lesson might not be prominent in the head of Jacinte, nor the player, but it has had a demonstrable effect on the world of Corner Wolves and the lives within it. Heir and Brass Lion believe the issues and lessons this history exposes are things that video games can dig into in their own special way.

“What I think you do is create the systems in a way that supports your thesis, that supports the themes and motifs of the game, of the story,” says Heir. “And then you make sure that it is embedded in all the different systems of the game. If you think how racism works in the real world, it’s embedded in all of our real systems. It’s embedded in the school system already. It’s embedded in the policing already. It’s embedded in job applications already.”

Thus, Corner Wolves’s Harlem is a world players can move around and participate in, but it’s also one that is already defined by forces outside of Jacinte’s direct control. “I think that higher-level point of view, and that control [players] don’t have – I think that’s what I want people to experience,” Heir says. “You don’t always get to be the hero in our world because literally the rest of the world doesn’t let you.”

The chips may be stacked against Jacinte, but she’s not powerless. The game has melee-based combat (no guns, however) and a conversation system designed to give her some agency while realistically portraying the world and situations around her. Heir says he likes exploring the grey area beyond absolutes of right and wrong – which RPGs in particular are well-suited for – and that at the end of the game players hopefully come away drawing conclusions, even if they aren’t necessarily able to power themselves up to some convenient, happy ending.

Jacinte, a 20-something high school graduate who didn’t go to college, isn’t part of the neighborhood’s drug trade. However, she’s aware of it, not only due to her dad’s death but because people in affected areas have to be, simply for the sake of their own survival.

Her status in the world allows her to move between different groups. One of the ways this surfaces is through code switching, or changing how you speak depending on who you’re talking to in order to present yourself differently. This could easily come into play with Jacinte’s background as both black and Dominican, moving between the two facets of her identity via language, as well as when speaking to the police and authority figures.

“We definitely want to get that authenticity,” Heir says. “It allows us to write a lot of different characters from lots of different backgrounds so we can have lots of different lenses on the same problem, to let the player kind of choose what angle they like to approach things from or what their thought processes on how to solve these issues [are].”

The game touches on dirty police, drug dealers, corrupt politicians, and even larger forces, but needs to do so in a way that’s still realistic to Jacinte and which doesn’t let the narrative and gameplay elements drift too far apart.

The team is working on gameplay prototypes to build a demo for publishers (the game uses Unreal Engine 4), but they haven’t nailed down all of its aspects. Given Heir’s background and love of action/RPGs, the game will likely lean in that direction, but all involved know that much will likely change by the time it launches a few years from now.

Art director and Brass Lion chief creative officer Rashad Redic is responsible for building the actual game world. The team wants to layer in touches authentic to Harlem and Jacinte’s mixed background, but filtered through an anime-inspired look. Anime is not only a personal touchstone for Redic, it also has a meta resonance because it’s popular in the black community.

Hip hop is another strong current for the title, and not just for nostalgia’s sake, but because it adds its own larger commentary. “Part of the appeal of hip-hop in the first place,” says Redic, “was you’d get that lens of what life was like in a way that felt like someone was telling you a personal story. We just have to figure out how we distill that into a game. If rap was the sort of genesis of the inner city and urban communities having a voice and giving people a window into their lives, then maybe our game is going to be the beginning of that as an art form for us.”

Brass Lion has signed a contract with Just Blaze (DJ and Jay-Z producer), although his dedicated work will come later in the project. Redic says that they’re not sure if they’ll use licenses for specific songs or even fashion brands, but certainly the goal is to imbue the game with an authentic vibrancy.

As much as there is to be still defined about Corner Wolves, much is set firmly in place, guiding the project forward. Brass Lion CEO Bryna Dabby Smith knows what it takes to build a good foundation for a game and to keep it on track, having been key to that as a project manager on Sleeping Dogs at United Front when it was with Activision. “One of the things I think they did particularly well was the story element, and they really invested heavily on the narrative design,” she says. “It wasn’t just the feel of the world; they were actually writing something that felt like it was actually tonally correct from a cultural perspective. That it actually had roots in something beyond just, ‘Hey this is going to be a kick-ass game.’”

There’s a major shift happening, and I think games are late to the party.

Bryna Dabby Smith

Brass Lion is currently working on Corner Wolves as a game, and is open to it appearing on as many platforms as are viable. The developer also believes the property has great potential to exist in other mediums, whether that’s film, comic books, or another form that takes place in the world.

So far, the reception to Corner Wolves and Brass Lion in general has been positive from the people the trio have met with. “There’s a major shift happening, and I think games are late to the party,” Dabby Smith says. “I think movies have already started to go there, and if you’re talking to anyone in the greater entertainment space, anyone with any sort of Hollywood background, they already get it because they’ve already seen Get Out, and they’ve seen Black Panther, and they’ve seen Crazy Rich Asians all do incredibly well because they’re telling compelling stories. And the fact that they center characters of color and they center more marginalized voices is not holding them back because people are hungry for that and they’re looking for different types of stories.”

For Brass Lion and Corner Wolves in particular, these stories are not black and white; they might not have a happy ending, and are too big to solve through a video game. But they are what people need and want to hear, and the time for them to be told is now.

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