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How Police Fund Surveillance Technology is Part of the Problem

Law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local level are spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on surveillance technology in order to track, locate, watch, and listen to people in the United States, often targeting dissidents, immigrants, and people of color. EFF has written tirelessly about the harm surveillance causes communities and its effect is well documented. What is less talked about, but no less disturbing, are the myriad ways agencies fund the hoarding of these technologies. 

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice reported on the irresponsible and unregulated use and deployment of police surveillance measures in the town of Calexico, California. One of the most notable examples of the frivolous spending culture includes spending roughly $100,000 in seized assets on surveillance equipment (such as James Bond-style spy glasses) to dig up dirt on city council members and complaint-filing citizens with the aim of blackmail and extortion. Another example: a report from the Government Accountability Office showed that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers used money intended to buy food and medical equipment for detainees to instead buy tactical gear and equipment. 

Drawing attention to how police fund surveillance technology is a necessary step, not just to exposing the harm it does, but also to recognize how untransparent and unregulated the industry is. Massive amounts of funding for surveillance have allowed police to pay for dozens of technologies that residents have no control over, or even knowledge about. When police pay for use of predictive policing software, do town residents get an inside look at how it works before it deploys police to arrest someone? No, often because that technology is “proprietary” and the company will claim that doing so would give away trade secrets. Some vendors even tell police not to talk to the press about it without the company's permission or instruct cops to leave use of the technology out of arrest reports. When law enforcement pays private companies to use automated license plate readers, what oversight do the surveilled have to make sure that data is safe? None—and it often isn’t safe. In 2019, an ALPR vendor that was hacked allowed 50,000 Customs and Border Patrol license plate scans to leak onto the web.

Law enforcement will often frame surveillance technology as being solely a solution to crime–but when viewed as a thriving industry made up of vendors and buyers, we can see that police surveillance has a whole lot more to do with dollars and cents. And often it's that money that's driving surveillance decisions, and not the community's interests. 

How Police Fund Surveillance:

Asset Forfeiture

Civil asset forfeiture is a process that allows law enforcement to seize money and property from individuals suspected of being involved in a crime before they have been convicted or sometimes before they’ve even been charged. When a local law enforcement agency partners with a federal agency it can apply for a share of the resources seized through a process called “equitable sharing.” Law enforcement often spends these funds on electronic surveillance, such as wiretaps, but also on other forms of surveillance technology, such as automated license plate readers.

Private Benefactors 

Wealthy individuals can have an immense impact on public safety, and are often the sources behind large scale surveillance systems. Baltimore’s “Aerial Investigation Research,” which would place a spy plane over the city, was funded in part by billionaires Laura and John Arnold, who put up $3.7 million to fund the program. Another billionaire, Ripple’s Chris Larson, has donated millions to neighborhood business districts throughout the San Francisco Bay Area to install sophisticated camera networks to deter property crime. The San Francisco Police Department was given live access to these cameras for over a week in order to spy on BLM protestors, which invaded their privacy and violated a local surveillance ordinance.

In Atlanta, businessman Charlie Loudermilk gave the city $1 million in order to create the Loudermilk Video Integration Center where police receive live feeds from public and private cameras. 

These grants, gifts, and donations illustrate the imbalance of power when it comes to decisions about surveillance technology.

Federal Grants

The federal government often pursues its nationwide surveillance goals by providing money to local law enforcement agencies. The U.S. Department of Justice has an entire office devoted to these efforts: the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJS). Through BJS, local agencies can apply for sums ranging from tens of thousands to millions of dollars for police equipment, including surveillance technology. Through Justice Assistance Grants (JAGs), agencies have acquired license plate readers and mobile surveillance units, along with other surveillance technologies. BJA even has a special grant program for body-worn cameras.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has paid local agencies to acquire surveillance technology along the U.S.-Mexico border through the Urban Area Security Initiative and Operation Stonegarden, a program that encourages local police to collaborate on border security missions.

Private Foundations

Many foundations provide technology, or funds to purchase technology, to local law enforcement. This process is similar to the “dark money” phenomenon in election politics: anonymous donors can provide money to a non-profit, which then can pass it on to law enforcement. 

Police foundations receive millions of dollars a year from large corporations and individual donors. Companies like Starbucks, Target, Facebook, and Google all provide money to police foundations which go on to buy equipment ranging from long guns to full surveillance networks.

According to ProPublica, in 2007, Target single-handedly paid for the software at LAPD’s new state-of-the-art surveillance center.

Kickbacks Between Surveillance Vendors and Police Departments

Because selling police surveillance tech is such a lucrative industry, it is no surprise that an economy has cropped up of shady and unregulated kick back schemes. Under these arrangements, police receive economic incentives to promote the adoption of certain surveillance equipment–in their own jurisdiction, to the people they should be protecting, and even to other towns, states, and countries.

Microsoft developed the sweeping city-wide surveillance system, Domain Awareness Systems, for the New York City Police Department, which was built gradually over years and cost $30 million. Its formal unveiling in 2012 led Microsoft to receive a slew of requests to buy the technology from other cities. Now, according to the New York Times, the NYPD receives 30% of “gross revenues from the sale of the system and access to any innovations developed for new customers.”

This leads to a disturbing question that undergirds many of these public-private surveillance partnerships in which police get kickbacks: Does our society actually need that much surveillance, or are the police just profiting off its proliferation? The NYPD and Microsoft make money when a city believes it needs to invest in a large-scale surveillance system. That undermines our ability to know if the system actually works at reducing crime, because its users have an economic interest in touting its effectiveness. It also means that there are commercial enterprises that profit when you feel afraid of crime.

Ring, Amazon’s surveillance doorbells, now has over 1,300 partnerships with police departments across the United States. As part of this arrangement, police are offered free equipment giveaways in exchange for a number of residents downloading their Neighbors app or using a town’s discount code to purchase a Ring camera. These purchases are often subsidized by the town itself.

This raises the very troubling question: do police think you need a camera on your front door because your property is in danger, or are they hustling for a commission from Amazon when they make a sale?

This arrangement is sure to deepen the public’s distrust of police officers and their public safety advice. How would people know if safety tips are motivated by an attempt to sow fear, and by extension, sell cameras and build an accessible surveillance network?

They Don’t Buy Surveillance Equipment, They Use Yours 

Throughout the country, police have been increasingly relying on private surveillance measures to do the spying they legally or economically cannot do themselves. This includes Ring surveillance doorbells people put on their front door, license plate readers homeowner’s associations mount at the entrance to their community, and full camera networks used by business improvement districts. No matter who controls surveillance equipment, police will ask to use it. 

Thus, any movement toward scrutinizing how police fund surveillance must also include scrutiny of our own decisions as private consumers. The choice of individuals to install their own invasive technology ultimately enables police abuse of the technology. It also allows police to circumvent measures of transparency and accountability that apply to government-owned surveillance technology.


Community Control of Police Surveillance (CCOPS) measures around the country are starting to bring public awareness and transparency to the purchase and use of surveillance tech. But there are still too few of these laws ensuring democratic control over acquisition and application of police technology.

With police departments increasingly spending more and more money for access to face recognition, video surveillance, automated license plate readers, and dozens of other specific pieces of surveillance tech, it’s time to scrutinize the many dubious and opaque funding streams that bankroll them. But oversight alone will likely never be enough, because funding is in the billions and comes from various hard-to-trace sources, new technologies are always on the rise, and their uses mostly go unregulated and undisclosed.

So we must push for huge cuts in spending on police surveillance technology across the nation. This is a necessary step to protect privacy, freedom, and racial justice. 

Original author: Matthew Guariglia
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The Time Has Come to End the PACER Paywall

In a nation ruled by law, access to public court records is essential to democratic accountability. Thanks to the Internet and other technological innovations, that access should be broader and easier than ever. The PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system could and should play a crucial role in fulfilling that need. Instead, it operates as an economic barrier, imposing fees for searching, viewing, and downloading federal court records, making it expensive for researchers, journalists, and the public to monitor and report on court activity. It's past time for the wall to come down.

The bipartisan Open Courts Act of 2020 aims to do just that. The bill would provide public access to federal court records and improve the federal court’s online record system, eliminating PACER's paywall in the process. This week, EFF and a coalition of civil liberties organizations, transparency groups, retired judges, and law libraries, have joined together to push Congress and the U.S. Federal Courts to eliminate the paywall and expand access to these vital documents. In a letter (pdf) addressed to the Director of the Administrative Office of United States Courts, which manages PACER, the coalition calls on the AO not to oppose this important legislation.

Passage of the bill would be a huge victory for transparency. Any person interested in accessing the trove of federal public court records that currently reside in PACER, from lawyers, the press, to the public, must currently pay a fee of 10 cents per page for search results and 10 cents per page for documents retrieved. These costs add up quickly, and have been criticized by open-government activists such as the late Aaron Swartz and Public.Resource.Org. As noted in the letter, which was signed by Public Knowledge, Open the Government, R Street, and the Project on Government Oversight, among others,

"It is unjust to charge for court documents and place undue burdens on students, researchers, pro se litigants, and interested members of the public – not to mention the journalists who cover the courts. The fairest alternative is not moving from 10 cents a page to eight cents; it’s no price at all."

The Open Courts Act of 2020 offers a clear path for finally making PACER access free to all, and should be supported by anyone who wants the public to engage more readily with their federal courts system. EFF urges Congress and the courts to support this important legislation and remove the barriers that make PACER a gatekeeper to information, rather than the open path to public records that it ought to be. 

Original author: Jason Kelley
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#FinCENFiles: The Banker Was A Spy

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Paraglider who disappeared flying over Nevada is found dead a month later

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This Long-Tailed Bird Makes Sounds With Its Feathers in Different

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Find peace of mind with TrackingFox’s GPS tracker for your car

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Beachgoer’s warning after sex duo’s ‘SPY camera’ found in dunes ends in giggles

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The Best Android Spy Apps Right Now – The Good Men Project

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10 Of The Most Unique Museums Around The World

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Instagram accused of spying users by accessing their smartphone cameras without consent

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Exposing Your Face Isn’t More Hygienic Way to Pay

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Fitbit Sense review: Advanced health and wellness tracking, GPS, and coaching Review | ZDNet

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Falcons' owner Arthur Blank believes players 'didn't clearly understand' onside kick rules

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and head coach Dan Quinn are at odds after the team failed to recover an onside kick, which eventually handed the game over to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Blank spoke to NFL Radio on SiriusXM Monday and made it clear that he didn’t believe his players understood the rules of the play, resulting in Dallas recovering the ball and scoring a 46-yard field goal to win the game 40-39.


“There are certain aspects of our performance in the first two games, which have been really good,” he explained, according to ESPN. “Some other parts have not been good. Clearly our defense is not playing at the level we want to see it play at. And clearly on the last play of the game yesterday our players, you know, didn't do what they, you know, either what they were instructed to do and they didn't understand it, or, it's clear, though, they didn't, in my view, they didn't clearly understand what the rules were and exactly what they had to do. I think that's demonstrated when you watch the video of it."


But Quinn defended receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, safety Sharrod Neasman and tight end Hayden Hurst immediately after they seemed to be waiting for the ball to go 10 yards on Sunday.

"Well, I think they definitely know,'' he said. "The front three are usually blocking as they're going and the high bouncers go to the second side. So, the front line, generally on an onside kick, they're looking to get a block first and the high hop goes to the next player. When that instance happens and it's not one that's a high hopper, then you just transfer in and you go to your ball, but you're looking at your assignment first of who you have to go block – certainly the ball and then your assignment. They definitely know the rule."


The Falcons are 0-2 for the first time in six seasons after their largest blown lead since giving up a 28-3 advantage against New England in the Super Bowl four seasons ago. It was only the fourth time they have lost after leading a game by at least 20 points.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Paulina Dedaj is a writer/ reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @PaulinaDedaj.

Original author: Paulina Dedaj
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Betsy DeVos says there is no 'perfect option' to safely return students to classrooms in COVID-19 era

There is no "perfect option" to guarantee the safe return of K-12 children to their classrooms in a COVID-19 era, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday.

In an interview on "The Daily Briefing," DeVos told host Dana Perino that the Department of Education is working to provide parents and educators with several "good options" as long as a foolproof plan for in-person learning remains unfeasible.


"I know that parents across the country want their kids to be back in school and continuing to learn and we know more than ever parents want and need to have choices and options for how that works and how that looks, depending on their children," DeVos said.

"We know there's no perfect option but there are lots of good options," she added, "and I've had the chance to visit a number of schools in districts where they've been leaning into this and really addressing the problems and the issues and providing choices and options for families."

De Blasio makes last-minute decision to delay in-person learning for public school studentsVideo

DeVos said the department is working to help students learning both online and in-person using funds left over from the coronavirus economic relief package passed in March.

"I think giving parents and families different choices and options to do what's best for their particular children is the answer now," she said.


"We have been continuing to provide support and as much flexibility around the funds that the federal government has appropriated and there's still lots of CARES Act funds that have gone unspent that could be used for technology upgrades, for technologies, for testing, and for cleaning supplies," DeVos explained.

"Whatever the need is, " she said, "there are resources there to be drawn from. But again, it's just an imperative that all kids have the opportunity to be learning full-time in an environment that works for them."

Yael Halon is a reporter for Fox News.

Original author: Yael Halon
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VA cancels 'race cafe' event that allegedly violated Trump's executive order

The Department of Veterans Affairs told Fox News that it has cancelled an event on race and microaggressions after appearing to defend it as in compliance with the President Trump's recent executive order on critical race theory.

"VA is fully adhering to President Trump’s directive, and this event is no longer scheduled. VA treats all Veterans and employees equally and with the utmost respect," VA Press Secretary Christina Noel told Fox News.

The issue emerged after Chris Rufo -- who works for the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank --  claimed on Monday to have received word that the VA's West Palm Beach office would hold a "race cafe" in which participants were scheduled to discuss microaggressions and executives were expected to sign an "equity pledge."

Rufo claimed that the event clearly violated an order the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released earlier this month, mandating agencies to halt any trainings which involved critical race theory.


When Fox News initially contacted the VA on Monday, the agency denied any wrongdoing.

"This event has nothing to do with critical race theory. It’s simply a voluntary discussion focused on maintaining an environment that’s welcoming for all employees," said Mary Kay Rutan, Manager at the Office of Communication and Stakeholder Relations at the VA.

Rutan added: "The pledge referenced is simply focused on eliminating disparities in health care outcomes among minorities – a common area of focus in the medical community known as health equity."

Fox News later asked the Office of Management and Budget for its reaction to the VA's statement, but didn't immediately receive a response. Early on Tuesday afternoon, Noel told Fox News the event had been canceled.


The incident was just the latest to raise questions about the administration's agenda at various levels of leadership. Rufo, on Monday, also claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and State Department were proceeding with "critical race theory trainings."

James Hewitt, Associate Administrator of the EPA's Office of Public Affairs, later told Fox News that it was halting a seminar that Rufo flagged.

"Until we have greater clarification on the Executive Order, we have put such trainings on hold," Hewitt said in an email to Fox News.

Last week, Rufo reported that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was proceeding with a training on racism, despite the president's executive order. OMB Director Russ Vought later announced that the event had been cancelled.


Most critical race theorists believe that racism infects all of our society's institutions, including public education and the criminal justice system.

“Critical race theory explains the complexity, the messiness of race and racism in our society in a way that is much more detailed, much more rigorous, much more complex than the simple narrative we’re told as children and that so many people continue to think and believe as adults,” Angela Onwuachi-Willig, dean of Boston University School of Law and an expert on critical race theory, explained to the Boston Globe.

“Racism is not extraordinary,” she continued. “Race and racism are basically baked into everything we do in our society. It’s embedded in our institutions. It’s embedded in our minds and hearts.”

The Trump administration has described these types of trainings in a tweet as un-American and a "sickness" and asked the public to "please report any sightings."

Vought later announced an email tip line so that whistleblowers could flag those events. "We have been working with agencies to identify un-American trainings. We have set up an email to report these sightings. These must be stopped!" Vought tweeted.

Fox News' Adam Shaw contributed to this report.

Original author: Sam Dorman
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Intel said 11th-gen Tiger Lake is on its way to Chromebooks

Intel’s new 11th-gen Tiger Lake CPUs will be the “best processor for Chromebooks,” the company said in a blog posted Monday.

Compared to a Chromebook with a 10th-gen CPU, a Chromebook with an 11th-gen Core chip will load webpages 28 percent faster, offer 2.7X faster graphics in gaming, import and edit Adobe Lighroom photos 23 percent faster, and cut import and export of videos by 54 percent.

The claims were put forth by Intel technology evangelist Marcus Yam, who cited several popular benchmarks including WebXPRT, Speedometer 2.0, and 3Dmark Slingshot.

Yam made the post on Medium.com, coincidentally the day before AMD made public that a Ryzen for Chromebooks would soon be out. Yam’s post seemed to rub in the fact that Intel’s relationship with Google and Chrome OS is a long one.

”Intel’s deep partnership with Google on Chromebooks goes back to the very beginning, and we have continued to drive innovations in leading Chrome OS devices throughout the decade since," Yam wrote. “In the last five years, Intel’s processors have powered more than 57 million Chrome OS devices shipped, accounting for more than 90 percent of all Chrome OS devices.”

If you’re wondering whether Intel’s claims of performance are true, we don’t doubt it. PCWorld recently kicked the tires on an 11th-gen Core i7 “Tiger Lake” and found it to be a big upgrade, putting Intel at the front of the line with its Iris Xe graphics, as well as superior AI and high clock speeds. And yes, Intel is still pushing its storyline that real-world tests matter more than synthetic tests. 

“As Chrome OS enters its second decade, we remain steadfast in delivering real-world performance that is more critical than ever with users demanding more from their machines in the rapidly evolving telework and virtual learning environments today,” Yam wrote.

For Yam’s comparison, a Chromebook using a quad-core 11th-gen Core i7-1165G7 and LPDDR4/4266 was compared with a quad-core 10th-gen Core i7-10610U paired with LPDDR4/2933.

The 10th-gen laptop is not Intel’s Ice Lake chip, but rather an older 14nm Comet Lake process that’s feeling pretty long in the tooth. Chromebooks with Ice Lake are extremely rare--the first one we know of wasn’t announced until June, or almost six months after Ice Lake made its debut.

Even if the 11th-gen CPU had been compared to a 10nm, 10th-gen Ice Lake Chomebook, our money would be on 11th-gen. Its Intel Xe graphics are a major step forward. Its high clockspeed due to Intel’s SuperFIN transistor technology also gives it a big edge over the 10nm 10th-gen Chromebooks.

Intel's announcement probably isn't as much about touting its own improvements as distracting users from AMD’s Ryzen for Chromebooks. Chromebooks are still going strong, and no one wants to give up their piece of the pie. 

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Original author: Gordon Mah Ung
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Here's the timeline for new Microsoft Teams features

Microsoft Teams is, for now, doing double duty as a business-conferencing solution and as a tool for education. So while some of Teams’ previously announced enhancements for education may have missed the back-to-school window, new Together mode scenes, layouts, and breakout rooms are arriving soon for workplaces and classrooms.

Microsoft is hosting its virtual Microsoft Ignite conference this week, having successfully shown the world with its Build conference earlier this year that virtual conferences, properly managed, can even supersede physical ones. One of the key technologies here is Microsoft Teams, and Microsoft is adding features to in record time. As one observer noted, the pandemic is offering both kids and adults a crash course in the same collaborative tools. 

Today, Microsoft launched a new Teams feature, called “custom layouts,” while providing an update to its “together mode” that it announced this past summer. But Teams customers will likely be awaiting word of breakout rooms and meeting recaps, and Microsoft provided updates to those, too. By the end of the year, Teams will be able to host interactive meetings with up to 1,000 participants, or 20,000 participants who can tune in in a “view-only” mode.

There’s even a new, special feature for remote workers: a “virtual commute,” using meditation techniques from Headspace as a way to transition from your workday to your personal life, and vice versa. It will integrate with Microsoft’s Workplace Analytics, a sort of virtual report card for your day, which will merge into Teams into 2021. 

microsoft teams virtual commute Microsoft

A look at the Microsoft Teams new virtual commute, as presented by Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella.

A new layout mode, plus Teams recaps

Microsoft, like Zoom and Google, has essentially straddled education and business with Teams, with features specific to both markets but sharing a single, unified code base. Microsoft executives said that won't change.

"We certainly like having Teams for education, and not having that be a totally separate code base, and a completely different animal than what we use for Teams for commercial customers and Teams for consumer," said Chris Capossela, Microsoft's chief marketing officer, in a question-and-answer session before Ignite began. "There is benefit to having them built by one engineering team. But whether it's breakout rooms, or whether it's how to control meeting chat better, there's a lot of things we're working on that we know that teachers are dying for us to release."

One technology Microsoft appears to have emulated from a company called Loom.ai is something new for Teams: a new visual organization tool, which Microsoft is calling “custom layouts.” That does screen sharing one better, giving the presenter control of how the content is presented at the meeting—complete with visual flourishes like superimposing the presenter’s video feed on top of the content. Custom layouts will be added to Teams later this year, Microsoft said.

microsoft teams virtual layouts Microsoft

Custom layouts can embed a "talking head" view of the presenter, seen here at the bottom of the screen.

Microsoft also provided an update to the new “together mode” it tipped during its massive July update for Teams, which arranges meeting attendees in various virtual settings to offer a feeling of normalcy to the whole affair. Microsoft said then that new scenes and backdrops would be added over time, and we’re finding out which: auditoriums, conference rooms, and a coffee shop will be available later this year, together with some AI assistance that positions attendees to best advantage. (Remember that Microsoft also uses AI on the other end, too, with a technology called Eye Contact that it’s offering to Windows 10 Insiders who use a Surface Pro X.)

microsoft teams alternate together mode scene Microsoft

An example of an alternative "together mode" scene within Microsoft Teams.

While “together mode” may be the sizzle, however, breakout rooms and meeting recaps provide the meat of the update. Breakout rooms are due in October, Microsoft said, allowing meeting attendees to spit up into smaller groups. Competing platforms like Zoom already offer this feature, and Microsoft and Google Meet are hastily adding them, too. “Presenters can then hop between breakout rooms, make announcements to all breakout rooms, and close the rooms to return everyone to the main meeting,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

microsoft teams breakout rooms create Microsoft

Breakout rooms are important for classrooms, allowing large classes to slim down for small-group instruction.

Provided that the meeting host archived it, Teams allows users to go back and re-watch a Teams briefing for note-taking purposes. In this regard, Teams will drastically improve: recaps will will archive the meeting recording, transcript, chat, shared files, and more, stored automatically within Teams. Meeting recordings will even be shareable via SharePoint to external organizations. Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't say when recaps would be available. However, there's now reason to keep that Outlook meeting calendar open when the Teams meeting is done, as that's where you'll find the recap archive.

Microsoft Teams meeting recap Microsoft

Here's a look at what a Microsoft Teams recap will look like.

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella also introduced a Learning app within Teams that will debut later this year, pulling in content from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, and other learning platforms and making it available to Teams users. 

Microsoft Teams learning apps within teams Microsoft

Smaller updates en route

Microsoft also made some smaller announcements as part of its deluge of Microsoft Ignite news.

Microsoft Search is beefing up by adding connectors, unsurprisingly. Connectors—simply entry points for tapping into data from a variety of sources and apps—are already a part of Excel and PowerBi, and Microsoft’s simply adding the same support to Microsoft Search. Remember, what you might consider to be “Bing” is actually Microsoft Search while within your company’s domain, and allows you to pull up data on colleagues and customers that isn’t publicly avaialble.

Rebooting Stream. If you’ve never heard of Stream, well, there’s probably a reason for it. Stream is Microsoft’s streaming video app, and Microsoft’s rebuilding it—probably a sign that it hasn’t taken off in its current form. “We’re rebuilding Stream to integrate seamlessly with applications across the suite, so you can create, share, and discover video as easily as an Office document,” Microsoft says.

Microsoft is reiterating that Teams will get further integration with Power apps. Microsoft’s Power Platform is a way of allowing users to build tools like they create documents, with specific features to each: Power BI adds business intelligence, Power Automate is designed automated workflows, and Power Apps and Power Virtual Agents create apps and chatbots, respectively. All these capabilities are coming to Teams. 

Updated at 9:10 AM with additional information.

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Original author: Mark Hachman
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Razer BlackWidow, DeathAdder, and BlackShark go wireless

Razer said Tuesday that the company has launched wireless versions of its latest BlackWidow gaming keyboard, DeathAdder mouse, and BlackShark gaming headset, all connected by its HyperSpeed Wireless technology that offers up to 195 microseconds of latency.

Specifically, Razer launched the $180 Razer BlackShark V2 Pro, the $130 DeathAdder V2 Pro and the $230 BlackWidow V3 Pro, all of which will be available from Razer and authorized resellers starting Tuesday. Essentially, they’re all wireless versions of the existing BlackShark V2, the DeathAdder V2, and the BlackWidow V3, with some improvements under the hood.

The key to the upgrades is Razer’s HyperSpeed wireless technology, which has already been implemented inside Razer’s Baskilisk Ultimate and Viper Ultimate wireless mice lineups, and has now been extended to the other two peripherals, plus the DeathAdder. HyperSpeed uses adaptive frequency hopping to avoid interference, and it also tries to minimize the time-to-click delays via a combination of optimized data protocols and wireless bandwidth. The wireless connection is enabled through a 2.4GHz wireless dongle.

Razer DeathAdder V2 Pro

The DeathAdder V2 Pro can work in any of three modes: in Bluetooth for general office work, in HyperSpeed mode to minimize latency, or as a “wired” mouse, connected via its 6-foot charging cord. Battery life is up to 120 hours while in Bluetooth, and up to 70 hours in HyperSpeed mode. As with most mice, it’s available only in a right-handed design.

razer deathadder v2 pro hero kv Razer

Razer’s DeathAdder V2 Pro.

The 7-button mouse weighs 88 grams, and features Rzer’s 20,000DPI Focus+ sensor. (By default, the sensitivity can be adjusted to 400/800/1600/3200/6400 levels.) Naturally, the mouse includes support for Razer’s Chroma RGB lighting software, all controlled by the Synapse 3 software.

Razer BlackShark V2 Pro

You can refer back to our hands-on of the BlackShark V2 for some of the finer details of the wired version, a quite comfortable 262g wired headset. Adding the battery increases the weight slightly, to 320 grams in total for the V2 Pro.  The battery life is approximately 24 hours, and you can recharge via a 4.3-foot cable.

Razer blackshark v2 pro 2020 2 Razer

Razer’s BlackShark V2 Pro.

Otherwise, the V2 and V2 Pro look basically identical, with the same THX-tuned 50mm driver—but with an extra speaker chamber—and 65 x 40-mm inner-ear cup diameter. The headset ships with Razer Synapse 3 controls, for adjusting the mic equalizer, ambient noise reduction and the like. The mic itself is what Razer calls the all-new 9.9mm Razer HyperClear Supercardioid Mic.

Razer BlackWidow V3 Pro

Razer’s first wireless keyboard offers a battery life of up to 200 hours with RGB off. It can be connected via Bluetooth, the HyperSpeed low-latency wireless technology, or its USB-C cable. Those connectivity functions are all controlled by a slide switch. There’s a general media knob for controlling volume, alongside four dedicated media keys. You won’t have to buy a wrist rest, either, as the BlackWidow V3 comes with one.

Razer BlackWidow V3 Pro Razer

Razer’s BlackWidow V3 Pro.

The keys themselves use Razer Yellow mechanical switches, with a new transparent switch housing for—what else?—RGB, all controlled by the Synapse 3 software. Finally, the BlackWidow V3 Pro can connect to up to three devices via Bluetooth.

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Original author: Mark Hachman
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A Cortana-powered Daily Briefing hits your Outlook email this month

Two intriguing functions in Microsoft Outlook, Play My Emails and the Daily Briefing, are scheduled to receive updates that add new Cortana-powered AI to functions that go far beyond just email.

Microsoft’s AI assistant, Cortana, has moved from being an integral part of Windows to more of an assistive technology. Outlook has been the main beneficiary, however, new Cortana-powered intelligence is coming to Teams, and to the Cortana app within Windows 10 as well.

One of the problems with Microsoft’s parade of new features is simply keeping track of the timeline. The Daily Briefing functionality debuted in preview mode a year ago, but at the Microsoft Ignite conference it’s now becoming officially available for Microsoft 365 users with Exchange Online mailboxes. Play My Emails is already out for iOS and Android for U.S. subscribers, but it’s rolling out in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and India during the coming months.

Microsoft summed up its improvements in Cortana and AI across its various apps via a lengthy explanatory video, which we’ve summed up below.

What is Outlook’s Daily Briefing?

The Daily Briefing is a personalized email that Office constructs for you, based upon what Microsoft 365 (or Office) knows about you and your day. It’s an improved, email-based version of what Windows 10’s Cortana function used to do, providing you a pop-up view of your day. It’s also entirely dependent upon your administrator, who must decide whether to enable it—and, in my employer’s case, apparently allow it through the spam filter as well. You can turn the Daily Briefing on and off via Cortana.office.com.

microsoft daily briefing original Microsoft

An example of the Daily Briefing email within Outlook, which is more than just an "email." It's a summary of your available tasks and responsibilities, with a chance to act on each.

The Briefing email outlines your meeting schedule for the day,  and then it supplies preparatory tasks and relevant documents to help you prepare for each. If you view the Briefing in Outlook (either for the web, the desktop app, or on Android or iOS) each of these tasks will be intelligently prised from email that Outlook "reads," looking for relevant budget spreadsheets, say, or your commitment to deliver a presentation—plus your draft of the PowerPoint in question.

Microsoft Daily Briefing followup card Microsoft

Microsoft's future improvements to the Daily Briefing email include a card to plan your next week's tasks.

Some of the reminders the Briefing highlights will be available as To-Do tasks, or possibly a Teams link. These are available now. In the coming months, Microsoft says, the Briefing email will add a weekly card to set aside time in the coming week, whether it's for 1:1 time with manager or "me" time to take a breather. Managers will also get a complementary card with similar tasks, but from their viewpoint.

Play My Emails improving, too

Play My Emails is a mobile-first feature for a world that many don’t live in right now. It starts as an audio digest of your Outlook inbox, and after Outlook reads each email, you can take action orally: archive it, respond to the sender, and more.

outlook play my emails notification Microsoft

You can set up Play My Emails within the Settings in Outlook iOS and Android, whcih gives you this little notification, below.

Play My Emails has other new features. In Outlook for iOS, you’ll now be able to use the Play My Emails feature with more than just a single account. You’ll also be able to use the feature with headphones, and then call the person who sent you an email.


Microsoft also says you’ll be now be able to play emails from a specific person, time, or topic, or just read email from your favorite people.  And if you have a car that’s set up for it—the back-end logistics aren't quite clear—you’ll be able to navigate the experience using your car’s own buttons.

Microsoft Outlook play my emails 2 Microsoft

Play My Emails is an audio-driven format, designed for you to listen to, not look at. You can respond in a variety of ways, mostly via voice. 

Cortana is now in (mobile) Teams

Cortana has now been added to the mobile Teams app in iOS and Android, specifically within the United States.

If you click the microphone button in the upper right of the Teams app, you can begin speaking to Cortana. The AI will help you perform the following tasks: join a meeting, facilitate a call to a contact, launch a chat, share files, give you a rundown of your files, and navigate from channel to channel. You don’t have to be too precise, as you can say “Join my next meeting” and be joined to it.

cortana in microsoft teams share file Microsoft

Sharing a file within the mobile version of Microsoft Teams

Advanced functions include things like “present the quarterly review deck” and “go to the appendix slide.” You can send a message to the attendees of your next meeting, as Microsoft’s suggestions page lists.

Cortana’s improvements in Windows 10

It seems somewhat heretical to leave the new Windows-specific Cortana features until the end, but the truth is that Cortana isn’t as powerful in Windows as she once was. For one, she’s now an app, rather than an integrated part of Windows—a new feature in the Windows 10 May 2020 Update. Cortana originally didn’t respond to a wake word (“Cortana”) at all, but she now does so via an August update for users in the United States and United Kingdom.

cortana windows 10 when can i meet with alex Microsoft

Cortana already can answer queries about your upcoming meetings...

Some of that productivity assistance focus assigned to Cortana in Teams and Outlook is being brought to Cortana within Windows, too, though for a very specific audience:  Microsoft 365 users with Exchange Online mailboxes in English in the United States. 

For example, Cortana will intelligently search documents across your local and shared drives, turning a search for “show me the recent sales presentation” into a list of the relevant documents. You’ll be able to dictate quick emails via Cortana. The Cortana app will give you a quick heads-up of an upcoming meeting, complete with a link to join it and the prepratory materials. You’ll also be able to ask work-specific queries about colleagues (“Who is Eliza Smith?”) and your schedule (“Is my afternoon free?”), which will tap Microsoft Search and Outlook, respectively.

cortana windows 10 meeting prep Microsoft

..and soon it will help you prepare for them, too.

Not all these features are technically new. The ability to compose short emails orally via Cortana was a feature that Microsoft added to Cortana within Windows 10 years ago, then eliminated when Cortana turned into an app. Adding it back feels a little anticlimactic.

Microsoft may have ceded the general assistant market to Amazon Alexa and especially Google Assistant. But it's also fair to say that it's shifted gears to make Cortana the best business assistant she can be.

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Original author: Mark Hachman
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Microsoft is enhancing the new Edge's PDF powers, and bringing it to Linux

Microsoft is upgrading users to the new Microsoft Edge browser as part of the Windows 10 October 2020 Update feature update. One of the areas it will improve is how the new Edge browser handles PDFs.

The other upgrade is aimed at Linux fans eager for the Edge experience. Microsoft said that a preview of Edge for Linux will be available in October, downloadable either from Microsoft’s Insider website or the package manager.

Otherwise, Microsoft will announce at its Microsoft Ignite conference on Tuesday that users will be able to add notes to PDF files within the new Microsoft Edge, bringing the browser back a bit closer to the capabilities of the current Edge browser. The new Edge will also include support for a table of contents, allowing users to navigate back and forth within a PDF file.

The “old” or “legacy” Edge browser was part of Windows 10 until this year, when Microsoft detailed plans to launch the “new” Edge browser based on Chromium, the same underpinnings as Google’s own Chrome browser. Like Chrome, the new Edge can use Chrome plugins, while the older version could not. The “old” Edge found within Microsoft’s version 2004 (the May 2020 Update) still allows users to fill out a PDF like a form, as well as mark it up with electronic ink, add sticky notes, and use Cortana to look up words within a PDF. (Our earlier PDF-on-Edge tutorial explains further.)

Microsoft is also adding the ability for users to be able to view and validate certificate-backed digital signatures within PDF files, ensuring that the documents are in the state intended by the signer. (Note that that’s different than actually signing the PDF with a digital pen, a capability that’s in the superb but often overlooked Office for iOS/Android app.)

As it typically does, Microsoft offered a varied timeline for the features’ adoption. Taking notes within a PDF will be added in October. Microsoft didn’t add a date for validating digital signatures or supporting tables of contents within Edge.

For most users, who may simply use Edge to browse from one site to another, the differences between the old Edge and the new may not be as profound. PDF use, however, is an important part of a browser’s capabilities, and Microsoft is working to push the new Edge further in that direction.  

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Original author: Mark Hachman
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