Robinhood opens cryptocurrency wallet to beta testers

Back in September, Robinhood announced plans to test a cryptocurrency wallet within its app. At the time, the company said it would open the beta to a small number of people before expanding availability ahead of a full-scale release. If you joined the waiting list Robinhood create, you can now test the wallet for yourself – provided you were one of the first 1,000 people to sign up for the beta.

In a blog post the company published today, Robinhood said it would invite 10,000 individuals to the beta by March, with more to follow later. In addition to storing cryptocurrencies, the company’s wallet allows you to move them off the app to other external wallets. During the testing period, the company will limit daily withdrawals to a total of $2,999. It will also limit users to 10 transactions per day, and, to take part in the beta, you’ll need to enable two-factor authentication. With today's rollout, the wallet supports Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin. 

As it works to polish the wallet, Robinhood says it will add “delightful” QR scanning experiences and an improved transaction history interface, among other features. When Robinhood first announced the wallet beta, it told The Verge it planned to make the feature available to everyone sometime in 2022.

Switch versions of 'Life is Strange' remaster and 'Dying Light 2' have been delayed

Nintendo Switch owners will have to wait or look elsewhere if they want to play two of February’s more notable new releases. In separate announcements, Square Enix and Techland shared they’re delaying the Switch versions of Life is Strange: Remastered Collection and Dying Light 2 to beyond next month. Both games will arrive on time on other platforms as previously planned, with the former slated to come out on February 1st and the latter on February 4th.

An update from the Life is Strange team

— Life is Strange (@LifeIsStrange) January 20, 2022

On Twitter, Square Enix said the Switch version of Life is Strange: Remastered Collection won’t be ready until later in the year. Dying Light 2 faces a similarly lengthy delay, with Techland telling Eurogamer it expects to make the title available on Nintendo’s portable console through a cloud streaming client “within six months from the original date.” Obviously, neither announcement is great news if you were planning to play those games on Switch, but at the very least, you can play them elsewhere.

Meta and Snap sued by mother over alleged role in her daughter's suicide

In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741741 (US), 686868 (Canada), or 85258 (UK). Wikipedia maintains a list of crisis lines for people outside of those countries.

A Connecticut mother has brought a lawsuit against Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta, as well as Snap, claiming the platforms to cause the sort of addiction her late daughter suffered prior to taking her own life at age 11 last July. 

Social media companies have been the target of various lawsuits over the years related to alleged harm to minors — oftentimes for failing to adequately prevent that harm, as in the case of teen who was bullied via an anonymous messaging app within Snapchat, leading to his eventual suicide. Tammy Rodriguez is instead making the case that the sort of "stickiness" these platforms are built to engender is inherently harmful, especially to young users like her late daughter Selena. 

Selena "struggled for more than two years with an extreme addiction to Instagram and Snapchat," the suit notes, a claim apparently backed by an outpatient therapist who had "never seen a patient as addicted to social media" during their evaluation. Although technically too young to be on either platform per their terms of service — Instagram and Snapchat state their minimum age for account creation is 13 — the mother points to the absence of parental controls, as well as the lack of strong age verification checks, which made policing her daughter's access to the services nearly impossible. "The only way for Tammy Rodriguez to effectively limit access to Defendants’ products would be to physically confiscate Selena’s internet-enabled devices," the suit claims, "which simply caused Selena to run away in order to access her social media accounts on other devices."

Use of the services, Rodriguez alleges, caused her daughter to suffer from depression, sleep deprivation, school absences, eating disorders, self-harm and led to her eventual suicide. 

Rodriguez argues that Snapchat's "unknown and changing rewards" are "akin to a slot machine but marketed toward teenage users who are even more susceptible than gambling addicts." Similarly, Instagram's design decisions "seek to exploit users’ susceptibility to persuasive design and unlimited accumulation of unpredictable and uncertain rewards," in the form of likes and followers. These features, it's argued, are highly detrimental to teen and pre-teen users whose brains are still not fully developed, particularly in the realms of "impulse control and risk evaluation."

The claim mirrors, as well as quotes from, some of the concerns voiced by whistleblower Francis Haugen. Among the tranche of documents released to news organizations by Haugen was internal research showing that Instagram might be harmful to the well-being of users, especially young girls, as well as internal documents describing the loss of of this user cohort as an “existential threat” to the business. The effects of Instagram on children's well-being is also the subject of a current investigation by a bipartisan coalition of Attorneys General.  

We've reached out to Snap and Meta for comment and will update if we hear back.

Twitter's security leads are leaving the company

New Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal is continuing to revamp the company's leadership. After removing the chiefs of engineering and design last month, Agrawal is bringing in new leaders for the security team.

The company confirmed to The New York Times that former head of security Peiter Zatko has departed, while chief information security officer Rinki Sethi will leave Twitter in the coming weeks. Agrawal is said to have told employees this week that the personnel decisions were made after “an assessment of how the organization was being led and the impact on top priority work."

Twitter hired Zatko, who's known as "Mudge" in the hacker community, in November 2020 in the wake of an incident that compromised many high-profile accounts. He previously worked at DARPA, Google and Stripe, and was a member of hacker group Cult of the Dead Cow in the '90s.

Sethi, a former IBM vice president of information security, also joined the company in the wake of the July 2020 Bitcoin hack. According to the Times, Twitter's head of privacy engineering Lea Kissner is taking over Sethi's former position on an interim basis.

Agrawal, who was previously chief technical officer, has wasted little time in reshaping Twitter after taking over the top job from Jack Dorsey in late November. The following month, Michael Montano and Dantley Davis, the former engineering and design heads, were ousted in service of "setting Twitter up to hit its goals."

The latest 'Star Trek: Picard' season two trailer teases a time-traveling adventure

The wait is over. Following a first-look trailer back in June of last year, ViacomCBS has finally released a new clip from Star Trek: Picard. And there’s a lot to unpack here. Through the machinations of Q, Picard and the crew of the La Sirena find themselves in 2024. Setting season two of the series in the near future may seem like lazy writing, but if you’ve seen Deep Space Nine, you know that’s an important year in Star Trek’s in-universe history that the franchise has explored in the past.

Welcome to the road not taken. 💫 #StarTrekPicard#StarTrek

— Star Trek (@StarTrek) January 21, 2022

In “Past Tense,” a two-episode arc from season three of DS9, a transporter anomaly (what else?) sends Commander Sisko, Dr. Bashir and Jadzia Dax to San Francisco circa the early 21st century. After the police leave him and Bashir in the city’s “Sanctuary District,” a ghetto that houses San Francisco’s poor and sick away from its more well-off citizens, Sisko realizes they’ve arrived on Earth days before the Bell Riots, a moment that’s pivotal to Star Trek’s worldbuilding. And it’s likely that moment Picard references at the start of the trailer. “There are some moments that haunt us all our lives,” he says. “Moments upon which history turns.”

The two episodes that make up “Past Tense” are widely considered some of the best the franchise has to offer, in large part because they directly address economic and racial injustice in American society. It’s hard to say if Picard will have something meaningful to add to that conversation, but it’s clear that’s part of the intent here. At the very least, fans can look forward to a cameo from Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan.

In the US, season two of Star Trek: Picard will debut on Paramount+ on March 3rd. Amazon Prime Video will carry the series internationally, with the first episode available to stream beginning on March 4th.

Google files motion to dismiss four charges in antitrust lawsuit

Google has filed a motion to dismiss most of an ad tech-focused antitrust lawsuit brought forward by a group of state attorneys general. It has requested that a federal court dismiss four of the six charges with prejudice, which would prevent them from being brought back to the same court.

"The complaint misrepresents our business, products and motives, and we are moving to dismiss it based on its failure to offer plausible antitrust claims," Adam Cohen, Google's director of economic policy, wrote in a blog post. The company says the plaintiffs failed to provide evidence of wrongdoing for several of their allegations and that much of the suit "is based on outdated information that bears no correlation to our current products or business in this dynamic industry (and in any event never amounted to a violation of antitrust laws)."

The AGs, who are led by Texas AG Ken Paxton, claimed Google abused its power to shore up its position in the online ads market. They said the company agreed a "sweetheart deal" in 2018 that gave Facebook parent Meta a boost in ad header bidding (a type of tech allows publishers to solicit bids from multiple ad exchanges simultaneously) in exchange for support for Google's Open Bidding method of selling ads.

Google said the deal was above board and that it wasn't a secret, as Facebook Audience Network (FAN) was one of several partners for its Open Bidding program. Cohen said the deal "does not provide FAN with an advantage in the Open Bidding auction. FAN competes in the auction just like other bidders: FAN must make the highest bid to win a given impression, period. If another eligible network or exchange bids higher, they win the auction."

The AGs also alleged that Google harnessed at least three programs to manipulate ad auctions. The aim, according to the states, was to push publishers and advertisers into using the company's own tools.

"State Plaintiffs respond to Google’s success by seeking to compel Google to share with its competitors the fruits of its investments and innovation," Google wrote in its filing. "They criticize Google for not designing its products to better suit its rivals’ needs and for making improvements to those products that leave its competitors too far behind. They see the 'solution' to Google’s success as holding Google back, rather than letting market forces urge its competitors forward."

As Reuters notes, the two other charges in the suit are based on state law and were stayed in September. Although Google hasn't asked for those to be dismissed, it reserved the right to make that request at a later date.

Court orders persistent 'Roblox' troll to stay off the platform

A court in California has ordered Benjamin Robert Simon to pay $150,000 in damages to the creator of Roblox, reports Polygon. Roblox Corporation sued Simon in November, accusing the YouTuber of harassing its player base and repeatedly skirting its efforts to keep him off the platform. At the time, the company initially sought $1.65 million in damages from Simon.

Roblox Corporation’s allegations against Simon, who is better known as Ruben Sim on YouTube, were numerous. The company said it had originally banned him from Roblox for using homophobic and racist slurs, as well as sexually harassing other players and uploading photos of Adolf Hitler.

The court ordered Simon to stay off the platform. He has also agreed not to make or publish “false threats of terrorist activity relating to Roblox.” One of the most serious accusations the game’s developer leveled against Simon was that he posted “false and misleading terrorist threats” that led to a temporary shutdown of the 2021 Roblox Developers Conference in San Francisco. The company claims it cost $50,000 to investigate the threat and secure the venue.

Simon has also been ordered not to go near the company’s offices. In its original complaint, Roblox Corporation accused Simon of glamorizing a 2018 shooting incident at YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno, California, and threatening a copycat act of violence at its own office in nearby San Mateo.

Simon told Polygon he plans to upload a video about the complaint on his YouTube channel sometime in the “next couple months.” The Roblox Corporation declined to comment on the outcome of the case.

Godzilla is headed to Apple TV+ in the MonsterVerse’s first live-action series

Legendary Pictures has been trying to make the MonsterVerse a thing for a while now, and following Godzilla and King Kong’s return to the movie theaters back in 2014, kaiju are now heading to the small screen in an upcoming series on Apple TV+.

Not content to simply feature the King of Monsters, the still-untitled show is set after a battle between Godzilla and other Titans reveals new info linking the monsters’ attacks to a secretive organization called Monarch. In case you haven’t kept up with the MonsterVerse, Monarch has made an appearance in a number of recent Godzilla and King Kong movies dating back to 2014’s Godzilla, with Monarch typically serving as the multi-national organization overseeing the research and tracking of MUTOs (massive unidentified terrestrial organisms).

While neither Apple nor Legendary has yet to provide a cast list or release date for its upcoming Godzilla series, the show will be helmed by showrunner Chris Black (Outcast, Star Trek: Enterprise) and Matt Fraction, who is best known for his writing on the 2012 run of Marvel’s Hawkeye comics. However, the big deal for kaiju-lovers is that the upcoming Godzilla show on Apple TV+ will be the first live-action series set in the MonsterVerse, and only the second TV show following the upcoming Skull Island anime on Netflix.

Currently, it’s unclear how the new Apple TV+ series will tie into existing MonsterVerse movies – particularly last year’s Godzilla vs. Kong which saw the big green dino team up with King Kong to battle a range of foes both ancient and modern. And despite 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters sometimes being deemed a disappointment due to middling ticket sales, Godzilla vs. Kong still managed to become one of the top 10 box office draws of 2021 while in the midst of a pandemic, which looks like a good sign ahead of Godzilla’s upcoming move to the small screen.

A group of Activision Blizzard workers is unionizing

Call of Duty: Warzone quality assurance workers at Activision Blizzard studio Raven Software have announced plans to unionize with the Communication Workers of America (CWA). They have asked the company to voluntarily recognize their group, which is called the Game Workers Alliance. The 34-person unit had the support of 78 percent of eligible workers, according to Polygon.

Today workers at @RavenSoftware launched @WeAreGWA with CWA!

Solidarity with #GWAUnion!

— CWA (@CWAUnion) January 21, 2022

“We ask that Activision Blizzard management respect Raven QA workers by voluntarily recognizing CWA’s representation without hesitation,” CWA secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens said in a statement. “A collective bargaining agreement will give Raven QA employees a voice at work, improving the games they produce and making the company stronger. Voluntary recognition is the rational way forward.”

Workers have given Activision Blizzard until January 25th to respond to their request, according to The Washington Post. If the company fails to do so, the group will file for a union election through the National Labor Relations Board and, because the workers have a supermajority of votes, they'd be able to formalize the union without voluntary recognition from Activision Blizzard. Should the group approve the union in an election, the company would need to bargain with workers in good faith.

Sixty Raven workers went on strike in early December after Activision Blizzard laid off 12 QA contractors, despite a request from Raven leadership to keep them employed. The workers demanded the company convert all Raven QA contractors into full-time employees. So far, Activision Blizzard has reportedly been playing hardball and declining to meet with with the striking workers. Warzone players have been grousing about the game's bugs, which QA workers are tasked with finding and addressing.

"Activision Blizzard is carefully reviewing the request for voluntary recognition from the CWA, which seeks to organize around three dozen of the company’s nearly 10,000 employees," the company told Polygon. "While we believe that a direct relationship between the company and its team members delivers the strongest workforce opportunities, we deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union." It added that it has raised minimum pay for Raven employees by 41 percent over the last few years, extended paid time off and converted over 60 percent of the studio's contractors into employees.

The CWA claims Activision Blizzard has "used surveillance and intimidation tactics, including hiring notorious union busters, to silence workers.” Last July, the company hired WilmerHale, a law firm with a history of cracking down on unionization efforts, to review its HR policies.

The Game Workers Alliance said its principles include solidarity, equity, diversity, transparency and sustainability. "Shortened development timelines sacrifice project quality and damage the mental and physical health of our team," it wrote on Twitter. "'Crunch' is not healthy for any product, worker, or company."

Our Principles:

-Solidarity: The voices of workers should be heard by leadership. By uniting in solidarity, we can ensure our message is further reaching, and more effective. (1/8)

— Game Workers Alliance 💙#WeAreGWA (@WeAreGWA) January 21, 2022

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced an agreement to buy Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, the biggest deal in video game history. If shareholders and regulators approve the acquisition, which could have enormous ramifications for the industry, the merger should close by June 2023.

In an interview with the Post on Thursday, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer noted that he didn't have much experience with unions personally after working at Microsoft for over three decades. “So I’m not going to try to come across as an expert on this, but I’ll say we’ll be having conversations about what empowers them to do their best work, which as you can imagine in a creative industry, is the most important thing for us," he said.

On Wednesday, Activision Blizzard said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing regarding the planned merger that, "To the knowledge of the company, there are no pending activities or proceedings of any labor union, trade union, works council or any similar labor organization to organize any employees of the company or any of its subsidiaries with regard to their employment with the company or any of its subsidiaries." The week that Raven workers went on strike, Activision Blizzard sent its employees a letter imploring them “to consider the consequences” of signing union cards.

As Bloomberg's Jason Schreier noted, the Game Workers Alliance is the first union within a AAA gaming company in North America. Last month, workers at Vodeo Games formed the first video game union in the US. Management at the indie studio voluntarily recognized Vodeo Workers United. Swedish publisher Paradox Interactive signed a collective bargaining agreement with unions in 2020, while Japanese–Korean publisher Nexon recognized a workers' union in 2018.

Leak offers a glimpse at Microsoft's canceled Andromeda OS for dual-screen devices

Before Microsoft announced the Surface Duo in 2019, the company spent several years working on an operating system codenamed Andromeda. It was envisioned as a reboot of Windows Phone with an emphasis on inking. The company worked on the software until it eventually decided to instead include Android on the Surface Duo. Until now, we’ve only seen glimpses of Andromeda in things like patent filing. But Windows Central recently obtained an internal build of the operating system and installed it on a Lumia 950.

Outside of a rare look at an unfinished project, what’s interesting about seeing Andromeda after all these years is how many of the ideas Microsoft was working on then either made their way to the Surface Duo or apps the company has released since. On the lock screen, for instance, you can see an early version of the Surface Duo’s peek functionality. Meanwhile, a lot of the features you see on the “Journal” home screen eventually made their way to the company’s Whiteboard app, and that’s something you can download from the Microsoft Store.

At the same time, it’s an interesting look at what could have been. Even in the software’s unfinished state, there’s a lot we see in the video that’s genuinely different from anything Android and iOS offer, even to this day. The fact Andromeda allowed you to jot down notes directly on the lock screen, and that they would still be there the next time you unlocked the phone, is something that looks genuinely useful.

Of course, there are probably many good reasons Microsoft ultimately decided not to pursue Andromeda. Launching a device that does something different, let alone a completely new operating system, is no easy task in a mature marketplace. Unless a device does nearly everything right, it’s difficult to overcome the fact most people tend to stick with products they know and are comfortable with.