Archive for the ‘Industry’ Category

by BBC

Xbox-owner Microsoft has acquired the games company behind blockbuster titles including Doom, Fallout, Skyrim and Wolfenstein.

It is paying $7.5bn (£5.85bn) for Bethesda’s parent ZeniMax Media.

Xbox has said that the publisher’s franchises would be added to its Game Pass subscription package for consoles and PCs.

This could help make the forthcoming Xbox Series X more attractive than the PlayStation 5 to some players.

Both machines are due to launch in November.

Game Pass already gives players access to more than 200 games. Microsoft includes first-party titles at point of launch to those signed up to its “ultimate” package without further cost.

By contrast, Sony has opted to charge players up to £70 for its own major releases and does not intend to include new titles in its PlayStation Plus Collection service.

It is not yet clear how the takeover affects Bethesda’s plans to create The Elder Scrolls 6, Starfield and other unfinished games as cross-platform titles.

In a statement, Xbox chief Phil Spencer said the two firms “shared similar visions for the opportunities for creators and their games to reach more players in more ways”.

Pete Hynes, senior vice president at Bethesda Softworks, said the deal offered “access to resources that will make us a better publisher and developer”.

“We’re still working on the same games we were yesterday, made by the same studios we’ve worked with for years, and those games will be published by us,” he wrote in a blog.

Piers Harding-Rolls, research director from Ampere Analysis, described the deal as “a major coup”.

“Microsoft has often been criticised for its lack of heavy-hitting first-party games franchises when compared to Sony and Nintendo. This deal catapults Microsoft’s games portfolio into a much stronger position,” he told the BBC.

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A filing has shown Sony’s PS5 in live photos for the first time, and it’s particularly large — you’ll need to make room for the game console.

by Jon Fingas, Engadget

Sony’s PlayStation 5 hasn’t really appeared in live photos, making it difficult to gauge the size of the console. However, the game console has finally made a real-world appearance in a filing at Taiwan’s NCC (via The Verge) — and it’s clear the PS5 isn’t meant for small cabinets. While Sony hasn’t been shy about mentioning the PS5’s 15.4-inch length (or height), 10.2-inch depth and 4.1-inch thickness, the NCC’s photos put those dimensions into context. You’ll have to make room for this beast, whether you’re buying the Digital Edition or the disc-based model.

As we pointed out in our specs comparison, this should be the largest console to date. It’s much larger overall than the Xbox Series X (if not as thick), and still bigger than legendary behemoths like the original PlayStation 3, the first Xbox, and the Xbox One. Sony also hasn’t included the stand or the “largest projection” of the PS5’s body into its figures.

You’re probably not buying a console based mainly on size. Game libraries, ecosystems, and price likely matter more. All the same, this is something to consider if you want a next-gen system but don’t have much free space.

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Lucas Manfredi, Fox Business

Sony took to Twitter on Saturday to apologize for the fiasco that ensued over the weekend after PS5 preorders were launched prematurely by retailers.

“Let’s be honest: PS5 preorders could have been a lot smoother,” the gamemaker said. “We truly apologize for that.”

The company noted that it will release more PS5 consoles for preorders over the next few days, with retailers expected to share more details soon. PlayStation added that more PS5s will be made available through the end of the year.

Sony revealed on Wednesday that the PS5 will cost $499.99 when it launches alongside the game maker’s $399.99 Digital Edition.

The PS5 will launch on Nov. 12 in the U.S., Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea before being unveiled to the rest of the world on Nov. 19.

“We’re pleased to provide choice to gamers with two PS5 console options at launch, depending on if you want a digital-only experience or prefer disc-based gaming,” Sony said in a press release Wednesday. “Whichever PS5 you choose, you’ll enjoy the same breathtaking, next-gen gaming experiences.”

The PS5 comes with a custom processor that supports 4K graphics and ray-tracing support and an SSD hard drive that provides “lightning-fast” loading speeds.

In July, Sony said it would offer plenty of advance notice as to when preorders for the highly anticipated console would go live.

However, the actual announcement came as a total shock to gamers, with Sony announcing that PS5 preorders would start as early as Thursday.

To make matters worse, retailers including Walmart, Target, Best Buy and GameStop all jumped the gun on the announcement by beginning to offer preorders just a few hours after the initial announcement was made. The move resulted in PS5 consoles running out within minutes and retailers’ websites crashing, leaving many gamers frustrated.

Microsoft took to social media following the trouble to mock its competitor, saying it would let gamers know “the exact time pre-orders start” for their upcoming next-generation consoles, the Xbox Series X and Series S.

Two days later, video game journalist Geoff Keighley shared the preorder times by country for the Xbox Series X and Seris S, noting that he’s “heard Xbox will be penalizing retailers by lowering allocations if they break these embargoes.”

The Xbox Series X and Series S will begin preorders on Sept 22, with the consoles officially set to launch on Nov. 10 for $499 and $299 respectively.

In addition to details about the PS5, Sony released pricing for the console’s accessories, including the DualSense Wireless Controller for $69.99, PULSE 3D wireless headset for $99.99, an HD Camera with dual 1080p lenses for broadcasting for $59.99, a media remote for movies and streaming services for $29.99 and a DualSense charging station for $29.99.

The company also gave gamers sneak peeks at some of the console’s upcoming titles and announced the PS Plus Collection, which offers PlayStation Plus members the ability to download and play from a “curated library of PS4 games that defined the generation,” including Batman Arkham Knight; Bloodborne; Fallout 4; God of War; Monster Hunter: World; Persona 5; and many more.

The PS Plus Collection benefit will be included along with existing PS4 benefits that PS Plus members receive for a single subscription price.

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by Jonathan Lee; In The Know

The post-event high of the PlayStation 5 Showcase has had fans buzzing, but new information from Sony has turned that buzz into mild disappointment.

PlayStation 5 will not be backwards compatible with the PlayStation 1, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3, as Famitsu confirmed (via Ars Technica). However, Sony Interactive Entertainment president and CEO Jim Ryan told Famitsu that “99 percent” of PlayStation 4 games will be playable on the PlayStation 5.

As Ars Technica also noted, this is an unusual change of heart for Ryan. In 2017, he questioned if PlayStation fans would ever take advantage of backwards compatibility in the first place, despite the fact that gamers have requested the feature for years.

“When we’ve dabbled with backward compatibility, I can say it is one of those features that is much requested, but not actually used much,” Ryan told Time. “That, and I was at a Gran Turismo event recently where they had PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS4 games, and the PS1 and the PS2 games, they looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?”

Some gamers on Reddit bristled at this quote and described Ryan as a corporate suit who is out of touch with his own consumers.

“Is this guy serious?” one Redditor asked. “This is the head of Playstation?”

“Don’t care how good Gran Turismo Sport looks,” said another Redditor. “GT4 has nearly [three] times the cars, better tracks, glorious OST and an actual proper campaign. I’ll always play it … and many other PS2-era games that their modern-day counterparts have yet to rival.”

For Sony, backwards compatibility is most likely not a technical issue. Indeed, people with jailbroken PlayStation 4s have discovered that the console is capable of running PS1 and PS2 games. (In The Know does not endorse jailbreaking a PlayStation — or any device, for that matter.)

The issue more likely has to do with licensing. For many games, the rights to use assets such as music are limited, so a digital version of an older driving game might be pulled from platforms because its sample of Lil Jon’s “Get Low” (skeet skeet skeet) has expired and the publisher doesn’t see the value in renewing it.

Noclip’s documentary on video game distributor GOG.com, which specializes in retrofitting classic titles for modern PCs, showed the enormous amount of work and legal red tape involved in preparing these games for rerelease.

It’s not clear how much console companies stand to gain or lose by limiting backwards compatibility, but there are still a lot of gamers out there who can’t (and won’t) let the past die. And for good reason! Bushido Blade still goes hard.

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Shayene “shAy” Victorio has been convicted of fraud, but is fighting the charges, and likely won’t spend life in prison.

by  James O’Connor via GameSpot

A former Counter-Strike professional player has been hit with a huge sentence after a conviction of fraud. Universo Online is reporting (via translations from Business Insider) that Shayene “shAy” Victorio has been sentenced to 116 years in prison, after allegations of fraud were made towards an online store that she helped operate between 2013 and 2017.

Victorio, who parlayed her success at professional Counter-Strike (Global Offensive and 1.6) into a large online following, is accused of operating a storefront that did not deliver on its sales to customers, with more than 100 customers left without items paid for or a refund.

Despite the sentencing, Brazil puts a 30 year limit on prison time for its citizens. Victorio is also appealing the case, stating that her former business partners on the site are to blame, including her ex-husband.

In a statement on her Instagram page (in Portuguese, below), Victorio clarifies that, as she is currently in an appeals process, she has not been arrested yet. She will only be taken into custody if the appeal fails, but her lawyer told Universo Online that they consider the sentence “inhumane,” and that they seek a new decision from the court “under the guise of the principle of innocence.”

As of last year, Victorio had left the world of professional Counter-Strike to focus on her work as a social media influencer. The details of the store she is said to have operated are not provided, and it’s not known how long the appeals process will take.

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Microsoft wants a “smooth transition” to the full September 15th launch.

by Steve Dent via Engadget

Microsoft is releasing its Android xCloud game streaming service in beta today at 9AM, with just over a month remaining until the full launch. It’s currently only available in preview form for Xbox Insiders, but all Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers will be able to access the beta version today from Google’s Play Store.

“As we approach the launch of cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate on September 15, we’re entering a limited beta period to ensure a smooth transition of the cloud gaming experience to the Xbox Game Pass app on Android,” a company spokesperson told Engadget. “Existing Xbox Game Pass (Beta) app users will get the opportunity to test a subset of the available titles as we ready the experience for broader availability next month.”

This limited beta is critical to providing the best possible experience for members at launch and should not be considered indicative of the final experience or library.

If you’re an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscriber in one of the 22 xCloud launch countries, you’ll receive a notification that it’s is available to test. There should be about 30 of the 100 launch games available, though you might experience some typical beta bugs. “This limited beta is critical to providing the best possible experience for members at launch and should not be considered indicative of the final experience or library,” Microsoft said.

The program is still on schedule, with the preview being discontinued on September 11th and the full launch happening on September 15th. The Game Pass Ultimate beta app rolls out today at 9AM ET on the Google Play Store, but you’ll need a $15 per month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription to use it.

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by Tim Baysinger via The Wrap

Mark Hamill had a secret role in “The Mandalorian,” that nobody knew about until Friday.

On the final episode of the behind-the-scenes docuseries “Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian,” it was revealed that Hamill lent his voice to a character in the Disney+ series. And who he voiced is an Easter Egg hunter’s dream: The droid EV-9D9.

Disney+ last aired a new episode of “The Mandalorian” in December.

Don’t know who that is? “Star Wars” die-hards will tell you EV-9D9 is the same droid in “Return of the Jedi” that was responsible for registering new droid acquisitions in Jabba the Hutt’s palace. Even more, the episode in which he turns up — the fifth of the season — takes place on Tatooine, which just so happens to be Luke Skywalker’s home planet.

It’s not the first time Hamill, an accomplished voice actor, has played someone other than his famous Jedi Knight in the galaxy far, far away. He’s voiced alien creatures in both “The Last Jedi” and “The Rise of Skywalker,” as well as the Sith Lord Darth Bane in the TV series “The Clone Wars.”

Hamill, of course, is also well known for lending his voice to The Joker in “Batman: The Animated Series.”

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by Ben Gilbert via Business Insider

Do you have a Nintendo Switch? Did you also have a Nintendo 3DS or Wii U?

If you answered yes to both of those questions, there’s a possibility your Nintendo Switch account was one of about 300,000 that was breached by hackers.

Nintendo announced the breach in April, but it doubled the number of affected accounts in an update this week “as a result of continuing the investigation.”

The issue applies specifically to anyone who connected their old Nintendo 3DS and Wii U “Nintendo Network ID,” or NNID, to the Switch. Nintendo now uses a system called Nintendo Account, but the company allowed people with existing NNIDs to connect those to their new Nintendo Account.

Nintendo said it no longer allows NNID logins on the Switch.

If your account was breached, you’ll likely know soon by receiving an email like this:

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Beyond sending an email to the account associated with your Nintendo Account, Nintendo is alerting affected users by forcing a password reset.

“As a further precaution,” the company said, “we will soon contact users about resetting passwords for Nintendo Network IDs and Nintendo Accounts that we have reason to believe were accessed without authorization.”

Going forward, the company suggests doing two things to make your accounts more secure.

First, you should change the passwords associated with both your Nintendo Account and your Nintendo Network ID. Second, you should set up two-factor authentication, which adds an extra layer of security on top of a password.

For more information, check out Nintendo’s support page here.

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by Mike Feibus via USA TODAY

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – About a month ago, the internet started to list.

Up to that point, online activity flowed more or less in balance, with work traffic relegated mostly to the business side of the ship. Then social-distancing directives forced much of the serious stuff over to the starboard side. Which is where we watch Netflix.

As it happens, the country’s internet infrastructure has proven robust enough to handle the wholesale shift. Unfortunately, it’s a different story for many homes with older Wi-Fi routers that weren’t equipped to handle the onslaught.

If your work videoconference is struggling to keep pace because it’s crowded out by your spouse’s team meeting and the kids’ virtual classes, then take heart. Help is on the way.

Tomorrow, the FCC is expected to approve a new lane for Wi-Fi traffic, something it hasn’t done in more than two decades. It spans the 6GHz frequency range, which means it’s much faster than both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi. Plus, it’s more than twice as wide as both those bands combined. Which means that 6GHz-enabled smartphones and tablets will have plenty of elbow room for all your family’s left-boat and right-boat activities.

You can’t buy electronics with 6GHz Wi-Fi yet. When devices do become available, they’ll be marked with the Wi-Fi 6e designation, which means they support the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard with radios that can communicate on the new band as well as the older, more crowded frequencies.

Expect to start seeing 6GHz devices – as well as routers to connect them – in time for what I’ll call the back-to-homeschool shopping season this summer.

A spectrum that can keep up

It’s not so much the skyrocketing volume of traffic borne out of social distancing that’s stressed older networks so much as the type of traffic. Even before work-from-home directives, Wi-Fi 4 and older-generation routers often had trouble keeping pace in the evening, when family members simultaneously played online games, engaged in social media and streamed videos.

Daytime internet traffic during social isolation has proven to be even more challenging, with multiple family members logged into high-bandwidth videoconferencing sites, with real-time activity flowing in both directions. Wi-Fi 6 laptops and smartphones are built for that. They’ll perform even better on 6GHz spectrum, where they will be free of interference from smart doorbells, thermostats and older tablets, PCs and phones.

These new network demands that Wi-Fi 6e addresses aren’t fleeting. They’ll remain in place long after the current stay-at-home directives are lifted. For one thing, health experts predict we’re in for more social-distancing initiatives over the next year or two in response to the ebb and flow of COVID-19 infections. But even when we’re not trying to flatten the curve, education and productivity are retooling for a future with more homebound activity than before. For one, school boards are expected to incorporate video into classrooms so kids can participate virtually when they’re home sick. With younger children, that likely will force at least one parent to stay behind and work from home.

As well, some professions are already rethinking how they approach face-to-face communication. In healthcare, for example, coronavirus is turning the emerging telemedicine industry on its head. Rather than examine people remotely who aren’t sick enough to go to the hospital, clinicians increasingly are tapping the technology to maintain safe distances between them and contagious patients.

I also believe that America’s culture of showing up to work sick will suffer collateral damage from the coronavirus crisis. We’ll still work, contagious or not. But going forward, we’ll probably do it from home.

Although it wasn’t planned that way, the new 6GHz spectrum couldn’t come at a better time. Because while the hull of our internet infrastructure has proven to be sound enough to handle the stress of an all-hands call to the home side of the deck, older home wireless networks have been exposed.

The upcoming 6GHz Wi-Fi, or Wi-Fi 6e, has the raw bandwidth, range and networking intelligence to run smoothly what we want to do and what we need to do. You might call it the new Wi-Fi for the new normal.

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WASHINGTON — It is billed as an easy and secure way to chat by video or text message with friends and family, even in a country that has restricted popular messaging services like WhatsApp and Skype.

But the service, ToTok, is actually a spying tool, according to U.S. officials familiar with a classified intelligence assessment and a New York Times investigation into the app and its developers. It is used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones.

ToTok, introduced only months ago, was downloaded millions of times from the Apple and Google app stores by users throughout the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. While the majority of its users are in the Emirates, ToTok surged to become one of the most downloaded social apps in the U.S. last week, according to app rankings and App Annie, a research firm.

ToTok amounts to the latest escalation in a digital arms race among wealthy authoritarian governments, interviews with current and former U.S. foreign officials and a forensic investigation showed. The governments are pursuing more effective and convenient methods to spy on foreign adversaries, criminal and terrorist networks, journalists and critics — efforts that have ensnared people all over the world in their surveillance nets.

Persian Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Qatar previously turned to private firms — including Israeli and U.S. contractors — to hack rivals and, increasingly, their own citizens. The development of ToTok, experts said, showed that the governments can cut out the intermediary to spy directly on their targets, who voluntarily, if unwittingly, hand over their information.

A technical analysis and interviews with computer security experts showed that the firm behind ToTok, Breej Holding, is most likely a front company affiliated with DarkMatter, an Abu Dhabi-based cyberintelligence and hacking firm where Emirati intelligence officials, former National Security Agency employees and former Israeli military intelligence operatives work. DarkMatter is under FBI investigation, according to former employees and law enforcement officials, for possible cybercrimes. The U.S. intelligence assessment and the technical analysis also linked ToTok to Pax AI, an Abu Dhabi-based data mining firm that appears to be tied to DarkMatter.

Pax AI’s headquarters operate from the same Abu Dhabi building as the Emirates’ signals intelligence agency, which until recently was where DarkMatter was based.

The UAE is one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East, seen by the Trump administration as a bulwark against Iran and a close counterterrorism partner. Its ruling family promotes the country as an example of a modern, moderate Arab nation, but it has also been at the forefront of using surveillance technology to crack down on internal dissent — including hacking Western journalists, emptying the banking accounts of critics, and holding human rights activists in prolonged solitary confinement over Facebook posts.

The government blocks specific functions of apps like WhatsApp and Skype, a reality that has made ToTok particularly appealing in the country. Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, recently promoted ToTok in advertisements.

Spokesmen for the CIA and the Emirati government declined to comment. Calls to a phone number for Breej Holding rang unanswered, and Pax employees did not respond to emails and messages. An FBI spokeswoman said that “while the FBI does not comment on specific apps, we always want to make sure to make users aware of the potential risks and vulnerabilities that these mechanisms can pose.”

When The Times initially contacted Apple and Google representatives with questions about ToTok’s connection to the Emirati government, they said they would investigate. On Thursday, Google removed the app from its Play store after determining ToTok violated unspecified policies. Apple removed ToTok from its App Store on Friday and was still researching the app, a spokesman said. ToTok users who already downloaded the app will still be able to use it until they remove it from their phones.

It was unclear when U.S. intelligence services first determined that ToTok was a tool of Emirati intelligence, but one person familiar with the assessment said that U.S. officials have warned some allies about its dangers. It is not clear whether U.S. officials have confronted their counterparts in the Emirati government about the app. One digital security expert in the Middle East, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss powerful hacking tools, said that senior Emirati officials told him that ToTok was indeed an app developed to track its users in the Emirates and beyond.

ToTok appears to have been relatively easy to develop, according to a forensic analysis performed for The Times by Patrick Wardle, a former NSA hacker who works as a private security researcher. It appears to be a copy of a Chinese messaging app offering free video calls, YeeCall, slightly customized for English and Arabic audiences.

ToTok is a cleverly designed tool for mass surveillance, according to the technical analysis and interviews, in that it functions much like the myriad other Apple and Android apps that track users’ location and contacts.

On the surface, ToTok tracks users’ location by offering an accurate weather forecast. It hunts for new contacts any time a user opens the app, under the pretense that it is helping connect with their friends, much like how Instagram flags Facebook friends. It has access to users’ microphones, cameras, calendar and other phone data. Even its name is an apparent play on the popular Chinese app TikTok.

Though billed as “fast and secure,” ToTok makes no claim of end-to-end encryption, like WhatsApp, Signal or Skype. The only hint that the app discloses user data is buried in the privacy policy: “We may share your personal data with group companies.”

So instead of paying hackers to gain access to a target’s phone — the going rate is up to $2.5 million for a hacking tool that can remotely access Android phones, according to recent price lists — ToTok gave the Emirati government a way to persuade millions of users to hand over their most personal information for free.

“There is a beauty in this approach,” said Wardle, now a security researcher at Jamf, a software company. “You don’t need to hack people to spy on them if you can get people to willingly download this app to their phone. By uploading contacts, video chats, location, what more intelligence do you need?”

In an intelligence-gathering operation, Wardle said, ToTok would be Phase 1. Much like the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program — which was quietly shut down this year — ToTok allows intelligence analysts to analyze users’ calls and contacts in search of patterns, though its collection is far more invasive. It is unclear whether ToTok allows the Emiratis to record video or audio calls of its users.

Each day, billions of people freely forgo privacy for the convenience of using apps on their phones. The Privacy Project by the Times’ Opinion section published an investigation last week revealing how app makers and third parties track the minute-by-minute movements of mobile phone users.

Private companies collected that data for targeted marketing. In ToTok’s case — according to current and former officials and digital crumbs the developers left behind — much of the information is funneled to intelligence analysts working on behalf of the Emirati state.

In recent months, semiofficial state publications began promoting ToTok as the free app long sought by Emiratis. This month, users of a messaging service in the Emirates requiring paid subscriptions, Botim, received an alert telling users to switch to ToTok — which it called a “free, fast and secure” messaging app. Accompanying the message was a link to install it.

The marketing seems to have paid off.

In reviews, Emiratis expressed gratitude to ToTok’s developers for finally bringing them a free messaging app. “Blessings! Your app is the best App so far that has enable me and my family to stay connected!!!” one wrote. “Kudos,” another wrote. “Finally, an app that works in the UAE!”

ToTok’s popularity extended beyond the Emirates. According to recent Google Play rankings, it was among the top 50 free apps in Saudi Arabia, Britain, India, Sweden and other countries. Some analysts said it was particularly popular in the Middle East because — at least on the surface — it was unaffiliated with a large, powerful nation.

Though the app is a tool for the Emirati government, the exact relationship between the firms behind it is murky. Pax employees are made up of European, Asian and Emirati data scientists, and the company is run by Andrew Jackson, an Irish data scientist who previously worked at Palantir, a Silicon Valley firm that works with the Pentagon and U.S. spy agencies.

Its affiliate company, DarkMatter, is in effect an arm of the Emirati government. Its operations have included hacking government ministries in Iran, Qatar and Turkey; executives of FIFA, the world soccer organization; journalists and dissidents.

Last month, the Emirati government announced that DarkMatter would combine with two dozen other companies to create a defense conglomerate focused on repelling cyberattacks.

The FBI is investigating American employees of DarkMatter for possible cybercrimes, according to people familiar with the investigation. The inquiry intensified after former NSA hackers working for the company grew concerned about its activities and contacted the bureau. Reuters first reported the program they worked on, Project Raven.

At Pax, data scientists openly brag about their work on LinkedIn. One who listed his title as “data science team lead” said he had created a “message intelligence platform” that reads billions of messages to answer four questions: “who you are, what you do, how do you think, and what is your relationship with others.”

“With the answers to these four questions, we know everything about one person,” wrote the data scientist, Jingyan Wang.

Other Pax employees describe their experience creating tools that can search government data sets for faces from billions of video feeds and pinpoint Arabic dialects from transcribed video messages.

None mention an affiliation with ToTok.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2019 The New York Times Company