Posts with «banking & budgeting» label

Apple pulls verification requirement for US education shoppers

Earlier this week, Apple began requiring that students and teachers in the US verify their identity through authentication service UNiDAYS before they could take advantage of the company’s discounted education pricing. The move closed a long-standing loophole that had allowed almost anyone to save money on an Apple device as long as they weren’t caught in a random check.

However, mere days after implementing that requirement, Apple has just as quickly removed it. Per MacRumors, you can once again buy discounted Macs, iPads and other Apple products from the company’s US education website without the need to verify that you’re currently a student or a teacher. The outlet suggests the company may have made the change after some educators and school staff members complained they couldn’t verify their status through UNiDAYS properly, and therefore couldn’t obtain a discount on a product they wanted to buy.

It’s unclear if Apple plans to reimplement the requirement once it sorts out any potential issues with the system. For years, Apple has used UNiDAYS in many other countries, including the UK, to ensure only those who qualify for its education discounts can get them. We’ve reached out to the company for comment and more information.

'We Met in Virtual Reality’ finds love in the metaverse

Mark Zuckerberg's vision of a sanitized, hypercapitalist metaverse will likely never be as compelling or idiosyncratic as VRChat, the virtual reality community that's been home to anime fans, Furries and a slew of other sub-cultures since 2014. That's my main takeaway from We Met in Virtual Reality, the first documentary filmed entirely in VRChat, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival today.

There's no chance Zuck's metaverse would let people wear trademarked avatars without paying a ton, attend exotic clubs to receive (or give) virtual lapdances, or allow users to build whatever the hell they want. VRChat, as portrayed by director Joe Hunting, is basically a proto-metaverse where anything is possible. And for many, it has served as a crucial social hub during the pandemic, a place where they can forget about the world, relax with friends and maybe find love.

But of course, that's been the nature of practically every online community. We're social animals — people have always been able to connect with each other over BBS, IRC, Usenet and the plethora of forums and chat services that populated the early internet. I spent most of the '90s hanging out in anime and gaming chat rooms, the sorts of places that today's connected youth would probably find quaint. Still, the people I met there helped me survive the worst parts of middle and high school. Those relationships, and the internet itself, shaped me into who I am (for better or worse).

We Met in Virtual Reality proves that the unbridled, experimental sense of online community is still alive and well today, despite relentless consolidation from Big Tech. But now, instead of staring at tiny CRT monitors, people are slapping on VR headsets to explore fully realized environments. Hardcore VRChat users are also investing in powerful computing rigs as well as upgrades like finger and whole-body tracking. In the '90s, I was grateful to get another 16MB of RAM so that I could have more than one browser window open. Today, VRChat devotees can communicate using American Sign Language, or have their anime avatars show off their belly dancing skills.

Hunting approaches his subjects with the eye of an anthropologist, without any judgment towards their sometimes ridiculous avatars (do all the anime ladies need to have jiggly, Dead or Alive-level boob physics?). We Met in Virtual Reality begins as a chill hangout flick — we follow a group of friends as they have virtual drinks and go on joyrides in crudely-built VR cars — but it quickly moves beyond the novelty of its setting. One person credits their VRChat girlfriend for helping them to "unmute" after being silent for two years. An exotic performer explains that being able to dance for people in VRChat helped her grieve with a family tragedy and manage a bout of alcoholism.

Joe Hunting

The film chronicles how that exotic dancer, a young woman based in the UK, formed a romantic relationship with another VRChat user in Miami. These sorts of cyber relationships aren’t anything new, but the VR platform allowed them to do much more than trade links and memes over IM. They could exist in a space together, go on dates to new environments every night. I won’t spoil where things end up for the couple, but I can say that it wouldn’t have been nearly as effective outside of VR.

We Met in Virtual Reality effectively conveys why people would gravitate towards VRChat, especially during a pandemic. But it doesn't fully capture the wonder of exploring these environments yourself. Seeing people hop on a virtual rollercoaster isn't nearly as thrilling as doing it, where your entire field of vision is covered and you can easily get vertigo. But I don't blame Hunting too much for that; his job was to boil down the VR experience so people can enjoy it on a 2D screen, and the film is mostly successful in that respect. The film was shot using a virtual camera that could mimic all of the functionality of a typical shooter, from focus points to aperture levels. So even though it's produced in an alien environment most people aren't familiar with, it still feels like a traditional documentary.

Hunting has spent the past few years making VR documentaries, starting with a few short films, as well as the series Virtually Speaking. It’s clear from We Met in Virtual Reality that he’s not just dropping into the community for a quick story. Instead, he sees the humanity behind the avatars and virtual connections. These people aren't just escaping from their lives  with VR — their lives are being made richer because of it.

Malaysia's updated copyright law imprisons streaming pirates for up to 20 years

Illegal streaming could be particularly costly in Malaysia. TorrentFreakreports the country has passed amendments to its Copyright Act that punish those who enable pirate streaming. People who offer streaming services and devices that "prejudicially" hurt copyright owners can face fines equivalent to $2,377 or more, prison sentences up to 20 years, or both.

The updated law also discourages companies from either participating in streaming piracy or tolerating its presence. Unless managers can show they were unaware of a violation and took "all due diligence" to stop such acts, they'll be considered guilty of the relevant crime.

Copyright laws worldwide frequently cover digital piracy, but some of them were designed to tackle downloads and other, older forms of bootlegging. That was a problem for Malaysia, which couldn't use the Copyright Act against people selling piracy-oriented streaming devices until a High Court decision allowed those cases.

The potential punishments are strict, and the wording suggests it may be difficult for some companies to avoid entanglements with rogue employees. How much diligence is necessary, for example? Still, this shows how some countries may specifically address streaming through legislation, and might please the US and other copyright-driven nations worried their neighbors might tolerate illegal internet services.

The Epic Games Store finally has a shopping cart

It only took three years, but the Epic Games Store finally has one of the staples of online stores: a shopping cart. Visit the store on your computer and you can grab multiple games, apps and add-ons at the same time. You can review and remove items before checking out, and move content to your wishlist if you'd rather wait for a sale. You can still click "buy now" if you're only bent on picking up a single item.

It seems like a simple addition, and Epic is keenly aware of how late it is to the party. The company opened its store in 2018 with a barebones feature set and spent a long while adding features people take granted from rivals like Steam, such as gifting. This is just the most prominent catch-up in recent memory. Still, it'sd difficult to complain loudly if it helps you buy a bunch of discounted classics.

It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for — a way to buy multiple items on the Epic Games Store… at the same time 🤯🤭

We know, we know. But hey! It’s finally here! And with the holidays just around the corner? Trust us, you’re gonna want a cart.


— Epic Games Store (@EpicGames) December 9, 2021

Black Friday online sales reportedly dipped for the first time ever

Black Friday online sales tend to climb ever higher each year as people grow comfortable with shopping from home, but not this time around. Adobe estimates combined Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day internet sales saw their first ever overall year-over-year decline in 2021, dipping from $9 billion in 2020 to $8.9 billion. That's not a calamitous drop, but Adobe saw it as a sign of shifting trends.

The tech firm believed the dip reflected a shift toward earlier shopping as buyers took advantage of internet deals starting as early as October. Why cram your shopping into a single day when you can take advantage of discounts weeks in advance? While Adobe expected more spending on Cyber Monday (between $10.2 billion to $11.3 billion), its data suggested the buying frenzy just wasn't as strong this year.

The products people were buying changed as the weekend progressed. Black Friday sales were dominated by Instant Pots, air fryers and toys, but Saturday sales were led by tech that included AirPods, entry-level iPads, the Meta Quest 2 and TVs from the likes of Samsung, TCL and Vizio. Game sales included Just Dance 2022 and last year's Spider-Man: Miles Morales.

Adobe also noticed that more people were comfortable making the final purchase from their phones. While some Black Friday shoppers were merely browsing on their phones before buying at a computer (62.2 percent of all visits were from handsets), mobile purchases represented 44.4 percent of all online Black Friday sales, a 10.6 percent jump versus 2020. Don't be surprised if many people never touch a computer for their holiday shopping in the years ahead.

Pinterest will no longer force former employees to keep quiet about discrimination cases

Pinterest will no longer enforce former employees' nondisclosure agreements when it comes to cases of racial and gender-based discrimination, according to NBC News. That's part of the terms the company has agreed to in order to settle the lawsuit filed by its shareholder, the Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island, for allegedly enabling a culture of discrimination. In addition, it has committed $50 million towards increasing diversity and inclusion within the company.

The shareholder sued Pinterest after allegations made by former employees Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks became public. In a series of tweets, Ozoma detailed how she fought for a year to be paid and treated fairly. She said Pinterest responded inadequately when one of her white male colleagues shared her name and phone number to racist/misogynistic parts of the internet. Her colleague reportedly doxxed her after she suggested adding a warning on content from Ben Shapiro, whom she'd described as a "white supremacist."

Meanwhile, Banks said her manager made disparaging comments about her ethnicity (she's Black and Japanese) in front of colleagues. Both Ozoma and Banks said they were paid less than their manager, a white man, despite having similar workloads. 

The Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island argued that by allowing those events to take place, executives perpetrated or knowingly ignored "the long-standing and systemic culture of discrimination and retaliation at Pinterest." Thus, they breached their fiduciary duty. Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner said:

"We pushed for these sweeping reforms to support Pinterest's employees with a fair and safe workplace, and to strengthen the company's brand and performance by ensuring that the values of inclusiveness are made central to Pinterest's identity." 

As NBC News notes, the fact that Pinterest agreed to release employees from their NDAs reflects the work Ozoma has accomplished since she left the company. She co-sponsored the Silenced No More Act that will make it easier for workers to speak out about racism and harassment in the workplace even if they had previously signed NDAs. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it into law in October, and it will be enforced starting on January 1st. 

Ozoma and Banks aren't the only former employees who spoke out against Pinterest. Former COO Françoise Brougher also said that she was fired after she told CEO Ben Silbermann that she was being given gendered feedback and was being paid less than her male counterparts. She sued the company last year and settled for $22.5 million.

Introducing Engadget’s 2021 holiday gift guide!

If you’re anything like us, the holiday shopping season never really gets easier. It always seems to sneak up when you’re unprepared and making your gift list is often an arduous process. Despite the warm feelings this time of year brings, it can be awash with stress as you try to find the right gifts for the right people, all while trying to stay within budget.

But hopefully our annual holiday gift guide can provide some ideas for the tech-loving individuals in your life. We’ve spent time pondering the best (and most fun) gadgets we’ve used this year and came up with more than 200 products worth recommending. You’ll find gifts for aspiring game streamers, amateur photographers, audiophiles, pet parents and more, as well as the best laptops, tablets and wearables. And for those with strict budgets, we have a roundup of all things under $100 in our guide along with additional ideas for stocking stuffers that come in under $50.

And for all you bargain hunters out there, Engadget will continue to cover the best tech deals throughout the holiday season. There have been a ton already as retailers have pushed up the start of the shopping season by an ungodly month (or two). But it’s safe to say that the weeks leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday will bring even more discounts. If you haven’t crossed everything off your shopping list yet, be sure to check out our Deals hub and @EngadgetDeals on Twitter to keep up with the latest sales.

Regardless of how and when you secure those final gifts, we hope our gift guide can make it easier for you to get there. And if you pick up something for yourself along the way, consider that a well- deserved reward for making it through yet another crazy year.

Square makes its Cash App available for teen use

Square is now allowing all teenagers to use Cash App, after restricting it to adults until now. Those aged 13 to 17 will need permission from a parent or guardian to use the app, however.

Users can send money to each other and receive discounts on some purchases. Teens can also use a Visa debit card called Cash Card to pay for goods. They can add the Cash Card to Apple Pay or Google Pay, and they'll receive a physical version of the card too. The card is customizable — you can choose a color and stamps, draw on it or make it glow in the dark. Changing the design costs $5 and there might be ATM withdrawal fees too.

Cash App is now available to everyone 13+, with parent or guardian approval. Send, save, and design your own debit card. #CashApp13Plus
Learn more:

— Cash App (@CashApp) November 3, 2021

There are some restrictions on accounts for those aged 13 to 17. Those users' parents or guardians will have access to their transaction records, including transfers, and they can shut down a teen's account and Cash Card at any time. Parents and guardians will be the legal owners of teens' accounts (13- to 17-year-olds will be classified as authorized users).

Under 18s will be locked out of some parts of the app too. They won't be able to trade bitcoin or access the Investing, Borrow, Check Deposit, Paper Money Deposit or Cross-Border Payments features. They can't use their Cash Card at certain businesses either, including bars, car rental places or hotels.

To request access to the app, teens will need to enter their parent or guardian’s information when they're signing up for a card or sending a peer-to-peer payment form their balance. Cash App will then contact the teen's parent or guardian for approval.