Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Amazon algorithms make customers pay more for popular products: Study

The online shopping portal Amazon’s algorithms make customers pay more for popular products giving prominence to items that benefit the retail giant, a study by ProPublica said. ProPublica on Tuesday said it reviewed 250 frequently purchased products over several weeks to see what all were chosen to appear in the highly-prized ‘buy box’ that pops up first as a suggested purchase. Amazon that bills itself as the “Earth’s most customer-centric company”, not only sells products directly itself, but also allows other retailers to sell their own products through its platform.

This means that the same product could be offered by dozens of vendors at different prices and with different shipping costs. When customers search for and click on a product, the Amazon algorithm chooses one vendor’s offer to put in the buy box. Having product in this buy box offers a major advantage for the retailer — as most customers end up adding it to the cart and buying it.

ProPublica found that almost three-quarters of the time Amazon would place its own products or those from companies that pay Amazon to fulfil orders into the buy box — even though they might not always be the cheapest. If a customer bought everything recommended by Amazon’s buy box they would end up paying 20 per cent more than if the same products was bought at the lowest price on the platform, the study said. Amazon, however, offers a tool to allow customers to compare product prices by producing a list that ranks sellers of the same item by “price and shipping”.

Although even there, the company gives itself an advantage by omitting the shipping costs for its own products. This would mean the rankings were accurate for Amazon Prime members, who get unlimited ‘free’ shipping for $99 per year, but for anyone else the ranking is misleading. Amazon insists that its algorithm chooses products to go into the buy box based on a range of factors — including customer service and free delivery.

Amazon founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jeff Bezos had said in 2007 that it uses “very objective customer-centred algorithms” to automatically award the buy box to the lowest priced seller, which is clearly no longer the case. At least 94 per cent of sellers who won the buy box placement without having the cheapest listing were either sold by Amazon itself or companies paying Amazon. The companies that do not pay Amazon hefty fees (between 10-20 per cent of sales) to fulfil orders, find themselves sidelined. ProPublica concluded that it shows how hidden algorithms govern online interaction from Google search results to Facebook news feeds.

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Adobe Lightroom CC update brings Smart Preview performance boost and support for iPhone 7 RAW files

The latest update for Adobe’s Lightroom CC image editing software has added two interesting features. The first one would be Smart Preview, while the second adds support for RAW files coming from a bunch of new devices, including the just launched iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

Smart Previews a feature that lets users speed up their Lightroom editing experience will now be available regardless of the status of the RAW files. Earlier having the RAW files in place meant that Lightroom would not allow you to make use of Smart Previews. The new update Smart Preview cuts down on the limitation which will be a big boost for those who love to use the feature.

Coming to new supported file formats, Adobe has now included the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus smartphones and also added the Panasonic Lumix LX15/LX10 cameras as well. The GoPro HERO5 Black gets some love as well and all of these were just announced in the past week.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV also gets support even though Adobe has issued separate details on the limitations of the camera’s special Dual Pixel Raw files. Owners will still be better off using Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software.

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Facebook to HC: New WhatsApp policy does not infringe on users' privacy

NEW DELHI: WhatsApp, the instant messaging platform, has said its new privacy policy does not infringe on the privacy of users and no third party can read the messages due to its end-to-end encryption.

When a user deletes his or her WhatsApp account, the information of that person is no longer retained on its servers, the company claimed before the Delhi High Court.

WhatsApp, which is opposing a petition challenging its new privacy policy, told a bench of chief justice G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal that a message is deleted from its server after it is delivered to the recipient and they may keep it on its server for up to 30 days, only in case the message is not delivered.

It said that if the message is undelivered even after 30 days, it is deleted.

Senior advocate Pratibha M Singh, who was appearing for petitioners Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, opposed the contention, saying WhatsApp was not giving "any choice at all" to the users so that their information is not shared on Facebook.

"They (WhatsApp) should give a full opt-out option to the users from their information being shared with Facebook and they should not be allowed to use the information for any purpose without the consent of the user," she said.

Singh also sought that the information of such users, who completely opt out of WhatsApp, should be deleted from the servers.

"What will happen if a user completely deletes WhatsApp," the bench asked senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for WhatsApp.

"We are only concerned about the users who will opt out saying they do not want to accept the terms and conditions of the new policy. We do not want to go into other issues," the bench told Luthra.

Responding to this, Luthra said "no data will be shared if the user opts out. When you (user) will delete WhatsApp account, the undelivered messages will be deleted. We will retain nothing."

The bench said it would pass appropriate order on September 23 on the PIL against the recent WhatsApp decision to share user data with parent company Facebook.

WhatsApp had made extensive changes to its privacy policy on August 25, the first time since it was acquired by Facebook, giving users the option of sharing their account information with the social network giant. It gave its users 30 days till September 25 to opt out of the policy.

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Monday, 19 September 2016

These apps may get you off the couch and working out

Soon after exiting Flipkart earlier this year, Mukesh Bansal announced he was teaming up with former Flipkart colleague Ankit Nagori to start a fitness venture called CureFit. What exactly they intend to do is not clear yet. The first products are expected to launch only early in 2017. But Bansal, who founded fashion portal Myntra and made a success of it with technology and data and sold it to Flipkart for a phenomenal $300 million two years ago, has indicated that he wants to bring those same elements of technology and data into fitness.

Nagori told TOI that though the current fitness and slimming industry size is over $1.1 billion and is growing at 20% a year, it's actually struggling, with a limited set of organized players offering little or no technology play and with a heavy focus on equipment. "We strongly believe that this format is on the decline.Trainer-led functional workouts, coupled with a high degree of data and tech integration, will be the future of the industry," he said.

It's a path that many others are today beginning to take. Traditional gyms and fitness equipment are often the subjects of jokes. Few who take gym memberships are able to sustain their interest - the drop off rate at gyms in India is estimated to be as high as 70%-80%, with most dropping off within 3 to 4 months And home fitness equipment very quickly fall into disuse, frequently becoming clothes hangers. Yet, there is no doubt that urban India is getting passionate about fitness. And newer entrepreneurs are trying to see if they can provide more personalized offerings using customer data, technology and research, and often in a way that people can use their offerings anywhere, anytime.

App-based tracking, fitness coaching and consulting
The 16-month-old, Goa-headquartered Mobiefit offers a variety of products. It has an app that works as a personal trainer-in-your-pocket. It sets the right level of exercise for you, gives reminders, guides through warm ups, counts steps and movements, and maintains an electronic diary . It features over 50 exercises that involve no equipment. It has an app for training you to run, and it has an app for walkers.

Co-founder Gourav Jaswal says the apps have multi-lingual capabilities and use artificial intelligence to provide automated coaching. "This gives us scalability," he says, noting that over half a million people have used the apps over the past few months. The venture earns revenues through digital sponsorships, paid programmes, event registrations and store purchases.

Several others including Fitso, Actofit, FitCircle, Orobind and ObiNo also offer tracking and consulting options. Gurgaon-based Fitso, founded last year by Saurabh Aggarwal, Naman Sharma and Rahool Sureka, has an online coach for running, providing a personalized service. Users can create a profile, challenge others in various physical activities, upload their videos, seek suggestions, and chat with coaches.Of its 70,000 users, 5,000 are active and 500 have opted for personal trainers.

Aggregation & discovery-plus
Then there are the Zomatos of the health and fitness sector, like FitnBliss, FitMeIn, Fitraq, Fitternity and Gympik. They aggregate fitness activities, studios, gyms and trainers, making it easy for customers to quickly find what's best for them.

Mumbai-based Fitternity, started by Neha Motwani and Jayam Vora in 2014, allows you to find fitness classes based on location, book free trials and take membership from the over 12,000 listings across Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Pune. But they have done a number of things to ensure users can sustain interest. It recently introduced a pay-as-you-go model that's seeing a 100% growth month-on-month. Users can select fitness centres just one hour in advance, make an online payment and work out at their convenience. They are tying up with di agnostic centres, creating programmes for specific diseases, and also aggregating health food. They launched a virtual currency called Fitcash that corporates can buy to gift to employees, who in turn can use it on Fitternity. HUL and Mahindra & Mahindra are among the users.Fitternity has 75,000 users, and Motwani says the venture has grown 12 times from last year and is approaching breakeven.

Food & diet
A bunch of startups are also watching what you eat and drink, and suggesting diet plans. Some even deliver the appropriate food home. HealthifyMe's app has a database of calorie value calculated for over 40 million Indian food items - from gulab jamun and pani puri to very local dishes such as South India's puliyogare, Maharashtra's kandyache thalipeeth and Nagaland's axone (fermented soybeans). It can tell you that 100g of Bengali-style eggplant in mustard sauce contains 105.8 calories, 13.4g of protein, 2.7g of carbs, and 4.7g of fat. HealthifyMe also offers paid services from fitness experts and nutritionists.

The system uses machine learning to personalize services. Based on food habits, calorie intake, weight and other parameters, the app can make automated suggestions on what needs to be altered in terms of diet and physical activity. The venture's user base has been rising dramatically - it was 50,000 soon after launch in 2012, 5 lakh last year, and 1 million now.Co-founder Tushar Vashisht says paid users are around 4% of overall downloads.

Truweight is a weight loss startup that offers a meal tracker app that is watched closely by a personal dietician while also providing food products like granola bars, batter for food items like millet idli, and quinoa dal dosa. While consultation happens over the phone, information is available on the app. "Our products are not meant to replace meals.They are only food items with a healthy twist so one can enjoy them guilt free," says co-founder Megha More.

But she admits it's not easy selling the concept. "The challenge with weight loss is that it is a function of many factors like hormonal imbalance, blood pressure, mental and physical stress. Sometimes clients simply don't lose weight.Diet changes also do not give instant gratification, which makes people impatient," she says.

Exploding market
But clearly, the opportunity is big. Karan Mohla, executive director in VC firm IDG Ventures, which has investments in the two top-funded ventures in the space - Curefit and HealthifyMe - says awareness about fitness is high among 10-20 million people, and he expects that to rise to 50-60 million in the next few years."But players should be careful not to lose focus and diversify too much," he says.

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Samsung Galaxy J7 Prime and J5 Prime smartphones launched in India

NEW DELHI: After months of speculations and leaks, Samsung today launched its newest Galaxy J models in India, the Galaxy J7 Prime and Galaxy J5 Prime. Samsung Galaxy J7 Prime is slightly upgraded version of the previously-launched Galaxy J7 (2016) model. The smartphone comes with better display resolution, more RAM, better front-facing camera and a fingerprint sensor. Rest of the specifications of the smartphone are same as J7. Samsung also launched its Galaxy J5 Prime smartphone, which has almost the same specifications as the Galaxy J5 (2016) with minor changes.

The Galaxy J7 Prime is priced at Rs 18,790 and is available in the market starting today, while Galaxy J5 Prime is priced at Rs 14,790 and will hit the shelves by end of this month. Both smartphones come with features like S Power Planning and S Secure to boost battery life and hide apps and other content respectively.

The Samsung Galaxy J7 Prime will be available in Gold and Black colour variants. In terms of specifications, the smartphone features a 5.5-inch Full HD display of 1080x1920 pixel resolution secured with Corning Gorilla Glass 4. Powering the device is a 1.6GHz octa-core processor paired with 3GB of RAM.

It offers 16GB of internal storage and supports microSD cards of up to 256GB in size. The dual-sim smartphone runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

Boasting of a fingerprint sensor, Samsung Galaxy J7 Prime packs a 13MP rear camera with LED flash, along with an 8MP front-facing snapper for selfies. It is backed by 3,300mAh battery and offers 4G, LTE, 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and USB OTG as connectivity options.
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The Samsung Galaxy J5 Prime on the other hand features a 5-inch HD (720x1280 pixels) resolution display, a quad-core processor clubbed with 2GB RAM, 16GB inbuilt storage with microSD card support of up to 256GB, dual-sim support, fingerprint sensor and a 2400mAh battery.

Earlier this month, Samsung announced its Galaxy J2 DTV smartphone in Philippines. Samsung Galaxy J2 DTV is the company's first smartphone with broadcast TV capability.

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Friday, 16 September 2016

Samsung will reduce Galaxy Note 7’s battery capacity via automatic update

Samsung will reduce Galaxy Note 7’s battery capacity via automatic update

 Samsung is getting serious about prying the Galaxy Note 7 back from customers. The company has issued a recall, worked with carriers, and made several announcements concerning the device. Now, it’s going to try a new trick — limiting the battery capacity to 60% charge.

For now, the over-the-air update will be confined to South Korea, where Samsung took out a front page ad in the Seoul Shinmun, a South Korean newspaper. The ad notes that the devices will be limited to just 60% charge, specifically to drive users towards swapping out their hardware. It is a measure to put consumer safety first, but “we apologize for causing inconvenience,” according to the AP.

Samsung is reportedly in talks with mobile carriers worldwide to discuss pushing similar updates to other devices. The issue underscores one of the problems with smartphones in general. With Apple or Microsoft, the company responsible for the operating system also has the ability to push updates for it. Both OS developers have taken steps in recent years to ensure all users are protected by security updates and bug fixes whether they want to be or not.  (Microsoft’s policies with Windows 10 have been controversial for pushing non-security updates and a general lack of communication around patches — security updates, in and of themselves, aren’t controversial). The Android ecosystem is much more fragmented and no single company claims responsibility for pushing updates to consumers.

 It’s not clear if Samsung is making this change simply to reduce the risk of overheating or because it’ll drive consumers into shops. Likely it’s a mixture of both. While the company initially downplayed the risk and told The Wall Street Journal that only a handful of devices had been affected, we can’t remember the last time any company went to such lengths to recall devices. Sony’s battery recall from a few years back when lithium-ion battery tech was newer and less proven was significant. But Samsung has pulled out all the stops to drive consumers into stores to replace their hardware.

Either this problem is larger than the company initially thought, or it’s decided to be extremely proactive with its outreach. If the former, the company ought to say something concrete about the issue — treating this as a face-saving measure isn’t going to work if high-profile failures keep happening. If the latter, then good for Samsung. Hitting battery life is fairly likely to drive people back to stores, and hopefully the company can roll the fix out to more than just South Korea.

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