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Friday, September 06, 2019



‘We Have Moved On Without Him’: Robert Mugabe’s Star Had Faded in Zimbabwe

"HARARE, Zimbabwe — For years, the eventual death of Robert Mugabe, the leader who held Zimbabwe in his grip for decades after its independence in 1980, had obsessed his countrymen.

As he pushed into his 90s — growing visibly frailer by the week, stumbling ever more frequently at public events, his once eloquent speech becoming sluggish — people wondered, with a mixture of dread and hope, when “the old man” would be gone.

But on a warm summer morning in Harare on Friday, as Zimbabweans woke up to the news that their former leader had died at a hospital in Singapore, the reaction was muted. Many in the center of the capital saw his death through the prism of their difficult daily lives — not through the lens of history that Mr. Mugabe’s fellow African leaders emphasized.

“I’m sad that Mugabe has died with the economy,” said Agnes Humure, 37, a shopkeeper rushing to work in Harare’s central business district. “I personally don’t know who is going to wake it up.”

[Our obituary of Robert Mugabe, who as leader of independent Zimbabwe traded the mantle of liberator for the armor of a tyrant.]

President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe was once Mr. Mugabe’s right-hand man.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe was once Mr. Mugabe’s right-hand man.Zinyange Auntony for The New York Times
The reaction was subdued in part because the once supremely powerful Mr. Mugabe had become increasingly irrelevant in the two years since he was expelled from power. Outmaneuvered by his successor and onetime right-hand man, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and growing rapidly weaker, Mr. Mugabe had been reduced to a ghostly presence in the country that his personality had dominated for nearly four decades.

“Mugabe’s death has come at a time we have moved on without him,” said Richmond Dhamara, a 42-year-old street fruit vendor. “I don’t think he will be missed that much, because he is the same guy with the people who succeeded him — cruel.”

Mr. Mugabe’s reputation was sturdier elsewhere in Africa. Even after the worst excesses of his long rule, Mr. Mugabe drew standing ovations at African gatherings, where fellow leaders praised him as the last of the great liberation leaders.

“Words cannot convey the magnitude of the loss as former President Mugabe was an elder statesman, a freedom fighter and a Pan-Africanist who played a major role in shaping the interests of the African continent,” President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya said on Friday.

In central Harare, where the presidency and other branches of government are located, Friday felt like a regular morning. People scrambled to work in dilapidated taxi minivans from the suburbs. Street hawkers were setting up their wares on sidewalks as part of the thriving informal economy that has replaced the collapsing formal sector.

No soldiers could be seen in the area, only the usual police officers — a clear sign that the Zimbabwean government did not regard Mr. Mugabe’s death as a political or security risk.

Zimbabweans celebrating outside Parliament in November 2017 after Mr. Mugabe’s resignation.
Zimbabweans celebrating outside Parliament in November 2017 after Mr. Mugabe’s resignation.Ben Curtis/Associated Press
For most Zimbabweans, their emotions had reached a peak with Mr. Mugabe’s political death nearly two years ago. Countless people celebrated in Harare and across the country at the time, in a short-lived euphoria that faded with the ever worsening economy and disappointment over Mr. Mnangagwa’s tightfisted rule.

In many ways, Mr. Mugabe’s actual death was anticlimactic.

“I wish Mugabe should just have died in power, because things as they are now are much worse than before he was removed,” Jeremiah Gumbi, a 26-year-old money changer, said at his usual workplace in central Harare.

Even a supporter of ZANU-PF, Mr. Mugabe’s political party, on his way to party headquarters — where the national flag was flying at half-staff — was far from effusive in his comments.

“Old Bob is our hero,” said the party supporter, Tinago Mhanga, 38. “Although he messed up the economy, he is the father of the nation, even in death.”

Mr. Mugabe had spent the last two years mostly in quiet isolation after being deposed in a coup in November 2017. For a time, he was effectively put under house arrest with his family in his mansion in a leafy Harare neighborhood. He was regularly allowed to fly to Singapore, where he had sought medical treatment for years.

But an uneasy and unspoken tension persisted between Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Mnangagwa, the eternal right-hand man who had ultimately turned on his patron. For Mr. Mnangagwa, dealing with his predecessor was a delicate issue because of their long ties and shared political party. Mr. Mnangagwa generally treated the elder politician generously, hoping that Mr. Mugabe would support him, or at least stay quiet.

A portrait of Mr. Mugabe at the ZANU-PF party headquarters in Harare.Zinyange Auntony/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Mr. Mugabe — as wily in retirement as he had been during his nearly four decades in power — remained strategically quiet. But whenever he felt that Mr. Mnangagwa was not treating him with the respect that he was due, Mr. Mugabe made it known.

At least once, his allies summoned foreign journalists based in nearby Johannesburg for a meeting inside his Harare home. His wife, Grace, helped the journalists slip into the house, past soldiers under orders to prevent Mr. Mugabe from talking to the news media.

Most significantly, during elections in July last year, Mr. Mugabe publicly expressed his admiration for the opposition candidate, Nelson Chamisa, the leader of ZANU-PF’s fiercest and historic rival, the Movement for Democratic Change.

But despite the hopes and prodding of his wife, Grace, and other allies now fallen out of favor, including the former information minister, Jonathan Moyo, Mr. Mugabe had become a political nonentity.

Little was heard from him in the past year as he grew frailer and frailer. Instead, his sons — famous partygoers whose public misbehavior forced their parents to move them from Dubai to Johannesburg in recent years — continued to make headlines.

What will become of his wife, Grace, is unclear. Mr. Mugabe’s second wife, she is reviled inside Zimbabwe and, more important, inside the ruling party. Many of Mr. Mugabe’s longtime allies blamed her for her husband’s political excesses in recent years and for associating a once famously parsimonious man with the kind of luxury shopping and traveling that she enjoys.

In the year or so before her husband fell from power, Ms. Mugabe had sought to position herself as his successor and sideline Mr. Mnangagwa. That ultimately triggered the coup. Now, with her husband gone, Ms. Mugabe has little or no protection left in Zimbabwe.

Jeffrey Moyo reported from Harare, and Norimitsu Onishi from Paris."

‘We Have Moved On Without Him’: Robert Mugabe’s Star Had Faded in Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe, Strongman Who Cried, ‘Zimbabwe Is Mine,’ Dies at 95

The most disappointing leader to come out of the African Liberation Struggle became a cruel dictator, who was frozen in ancient tribal loyalties, He dashed the hope of so many people at home and abroad after his defeat of the cruel race-based government led by the brutal.Ian Smith.

Robert Mugabe, Strongman Who Cried, ‘Zimbabwe Is Mine,’ Dies at 95

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Is the Cheapest MacBook Pro the best MacBook Pro? 2019 13" MacBook Pro R...

These Sony earbuds do what AirPods can’t

Confirmed: Apple's new MacBook Pro gets a big speed boost

"These two entry-level Apple laptops get spec upgrades and, in one case, an important price cut.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple kicked off the back-to-school season with some pretty significant changes to the MacBook lineup on Tuesday. There were price cuts, trickle-down features and a few quiet cancellations, including the old, pre-redesign MacBook Air and the cult favorite 12-inch MacBook
Getting an update are the MacBook Air and the lowest-end version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. For the Air, that's a significant point, as the system received its largest overhaul in a decade just last year. 
Both new MacBooks have arrived in the CNET Labs for review. Our testing is ongoing, but here's an early look at some of the initial results and our first hands-on impressions. 

The entry-level MacBook Pro now includes Apple's Touch Bar. 
Sarah Tew/CNET

The new MacBook Air doesn't look any different, but it adds Apple's True Tone display, which can adjust the screen's color temperature based on the ambient lighting. It's already found on iPad Pro, recent iPhones and some MacBook Pros. 
But more important than that, the starting price has been cut by $100, from $1,199 to $1,099 (£1,099, AU$1,699). That's still not the classic MacBook Air price of $999, but it's getting closer and students can get it for $999. 
Watch this: Back-to-school MacBooks get faster, cheaper
More consequential are the changes to the 13-inch MacBook Pro. That $1,299 model was a favorite for some, as it excluded the Touch Bar found in more-expensive MacBook Pros. Now you can no longer avoid the Touch Bar, but it's included for the same $1,299 price, along with the TouchID fingerprint reader and T2 security chip. 
It also jumps from an older dual-core Intel CPU to a newer quad-core version, so the least expensive Pro feels more like, well, a Pro. Case in point, we ran the new quad-core 13-inch MacBook Pro against an older dual-core version. Yes, the eighth-gen chips have an advantage over the seventh-gen ones, but the difference between the two base models is huge. 

Geekbench 4 (multicore)

MacBook Pro 13-inch (quad-core, 2019)
MacBook Pro 13-inch (dual-core, 2017)


Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multicore)

MacBook Pro 13-inch (quad-core, 2019)
MacBook Pro 13-inch (dual-core, 2017)


Longer bars indicate better performance

System Configurations

We're currently testing both the new MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, and will report full benchmark results, including battery life, in upcoming reviews. While the Pro is getting a big speed boost, I wouldn't expect any real change in the MacBook Air performance -- the biggest move there is the price. "

Confirmed: Apple's new MacBook Pro gets a big speed boost

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

FCC: Phone Companies Can Block Robocalls by Default

Red vintage phone on the floor

"Unlucky Atlantans

Which area code was hardest hit last month? The 404 area code in Atlanta had that sorry distinction in May, with an estimated 78.7 million robocalls, according to YouMail.
After Atlanta, the next hardest hit area codes were 214 in Dallas, 72.1 million; 832 in Houston, 70 million; 678 in Atlanta, 61.6 million; 954 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 47.5 million; 817, also in Dallas, 46.3 million; 917 in New York, 45.9 million; 310 in Los Angeles, 45.6 million; 210 in San Antonio, 43.9 million; 702 in Las Vegas, 43.6 million; and 901 in Memphis, Tenn., 42.3 million.
Because you take a cellphone anywhere, YouMail's estimates are based on area codes, regardless of where you actually live, said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail.
Under the FCC's decision, customers can opt out of call blocking. They may worry about missing legal automated calls about medical appointments, school closures, flight changes or late payments.
And phone companies will be able, though not required, to charge for the call-blocking service.
YouMail's Quilici said he expects the phone companies first will begin blocking robocalls that are obviously illegal: for example, those displaying area codes and prefixes that don't exist, or numbers that are unassigned.
That means “tons” of robocalls still will be able to get through as carriers judge which calls are wanted and which aren't, he said.
"I think the carriers are going to move slowly and not go whole hog,” he said. “They have to be careful with what they block."
FCC: Phone Companies Can Block Robocalls by Default

Why a Sony User Picks Canon EOS R over the Sony A7III

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Opinion | Why Is America So Far Behind Europe on Digital Privacy?

"By The Editorial Board

In the past year, Congress has been happy to drag tech C.E.O.s into hearings and question them about how they vacuum up and exploit personal information about their users. But so far those hearings haven’t amounted to much more than talk. Lawmakers have yet to do their job and rewrite the law to ensure that such abuses don’t continue.

Americans have been far too vulnerable for far too long when they venture online. Companies are free today to monitor Americans’ behavior and collect information about them from across the web and the real world to do everything from sell them cars to influence their votes to set their life insurance rates — all usually without users’ knowledge of the collection and manipulation taking place behind the scenes. It’s taken more than a decade of shocking revelations — of data breaches and other privacy abuses — to get to this moment, when there finally seems to be enough momentum to pass a federal law. Congress is considering several pieces of legislation that would strengthen Americans’ privacy rights, and alongside them, a few bills that would make it easier for tech companies to strip away what few privacy rights we now enjoy. 

[If you use technology, someone is using your information. We’ll tell you how — and what you can do about it. Sign up for our limited-run newsletter.]

American lawmakers are late to the party. Europe has already set what amounts to a global privacy standard with its General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect in 2018. G.D.P.R. establishes several privacy rights that do not exist in the United States — including a requirement for companies to inform users about their data practices and receive explicit permission before collecting any personal information. Although Americans cannot legally avail themselves of specific rights under G.D.P.R., the fact that the biggest global tech companies are complying everywhere with the new European rules means that the technocrats in Brussels are doing more for Americans’ digital privacy rights than their own Congress.

The toughest privacy law in the United States today, is the California Consumer Privacy Act, which is set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. Just like G.D.P.R., it requires companies to take adequate security measures to protect data and also offers consumers the right to request access to the data that has been collected about them. Under the California law, consumers not only have a right to know whether their data is being sold or handed off to third parties, they also have a right to block that sale. And the opt-out can’t be a false choice — Facebook and Google would not be able to refuse service just because a user didn’t want their data sold.

While the California Legislature is still working out the precise details of the law and its implementation, other states — including New York — are hard at work on their own privacy legislation. The prospect of a patchwork of state-level rules explains why tech companies are suddenly eager for Washington to step in to set a national standard.

If a weak federal privacy law pre-empts state law, it would roll back the protections that Californians are supposed to get — and it would make it impossible for other states to set the bar even higher. That’s exactly what’s going on with privacy bills introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (the American Data Dissemination Act) and Senator Marsha Blackburn (the Balancing the Rights of Web Surfers Equally and Responsibly Act). Both offer weak privacy protections bundled with federal pre-emption. If passed, they would gut the California law. In the House, Representative Suzan DelBene’s Information Transparency and Personal Data Control Act also pre-empts state law, while offering a respectable amount of privacy protection, like a requirement for companies to secure opt-in consent before collecting user data. Still, even that bill lacks some rights that the California law provides.

The Senate bills that take privacy seriously do not contain pre-emption clauses. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto’s DATA Privacy Act, for instance, bears similarities to the California law and to the G.D.P.R., as does Senator Ed Markey’s significantly more ambitious Privacy Bill of Rights Act. Although Ms. Cortez Masto’s bill does not create a private right of action — that is, the ability for consumers to sue tech companies for privacy violations — Mr. Markey’s does, and invalidates arbitration clauses that could otherwise shield companies from individual lawsuits. Consumer lawsuits are a hot-button issue — in the California law, the private right of action exists only in a limited form thanks in part to corporate lobbying. Most interestingly, Mr. Markey’s bill requires the creation of a public list of data brokers in the United States — third party companies who buy and sell your data.

Not all bills on the table take an omnibus approach. Some appear to be highly specific swipes at Facebook. For example, a social media privacy bill introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Kennedy does not add very much to consumer privacy, but each of its provisions — like one that forbids a change to a product that “overrides the privacy preferences of a user” — seems to be a reference to something Facebook has done in the past. Senators Mark Warner and Deb Fischer have introduced a bill circumscribing experimentation on users without their consent. It might seem shocking that any company would do such a thing, but, in fact, Facebook tinkered with its News Feed in 2014 to test whether it could alter its users’ emotions. (The bill also bars designing sites targeted at children under the age of 13 “with the purpose or substantial effect of cultivating compulsive usage, including video auto-play functions initiated without the consent of a user” — a provision aimed at YouTube and its effect on children.)

Where the Warner/Fischer bill looks to alleviate the harmful effects of data collection on consumers, Senator Josh Hawley’s Do Not Track Act seeks to stop the problem much closer to the source, by creating a Do Not Track system administered by the Federal Trade Commission. Commercial websites would be required by law not to harvest unnecessary data from consumers who have Do Not Track turned on.

A similar idea appeared in a more comprehensive draft bill circulated last year by Senator Ron Wyden, but Mr. Wyden has yet to introduce that bill this session. Instead, like Mr. Warner, he seems to have turned his attention to downstream effects — for the time being, at least. This year, he is sponsoring a bill for algorithmic accountability, requiring the largest tech companies to test their artificial intelligence systems for biases, such as racial discrimination, and to fix those biases that are found. 
A grand bargain privacy bill is said to be in the works, with a handful of lawmakers from both parties haggling privately over the details. Forward-thinking legislation — and the public hearings that would inform its passage — are urgently needed. Americans deserve a robust discussion of what privacy rights they are entitled to and strong privacy laws to protect them. 
Congress’s earliest attempts to regulate computing in the 1980s and 1990s were embarrassing. The Congressional Record shows that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984, for instance, was prompted by a fantastical Hollywood film about a boy hacker. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 — many sections of which were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the following year — had its origins in a moral panic about internet pornography touched off by questionable research. All this lent support to the received wisdom that the tech industry is best left to its own devices without the interference of a clueless legislature. More recent attempts, like the abortive Stop Online Piracy Act, an overbroad piece of copyright enforcement legislation that was killed in 2012 after furious backlash from internet users, have not instilled much confidence in Capitol Hill’s understanding of technology. But encouragingly, many of the privacy bills introduced this session show a sophisticated understanding of the market for personal information, the nation’s woefully inadequate cybersecurity and the many dangers posed by a sector of the economy that has proved itself incapable of self-regulation. Legislators have stepped up their game.

A single bill is of course not the end of government’s responsibilities to its citizens. Any regulation must evolve alongside technology to safeguard fundamental freedoms. But a strong law would be a welcome start. The California privacy law will go into effect in less than seven months. Congress should seize the moment and the public momentum to enshrine digital privacy rights into federal law."

Opinion | Why Is America So Far Behind Europe on Digital Privacy?

Are Plastic, Paper Or Reusable Bags Better For The Environment?

The truth about reusable tote bags is more complicated than you might think. That doesn't mean you should stop using them.&nb

"So which choice is the least bad? Well, it depends whom you ask.

In April, Quartz published an article titled “Your cotton tote is pretty much the worst replacement for a plastic bag.” The story was based on a 2018 life cycle assessment of grocery bags from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, which found that single-use plastic was less detrimental than cotton totes or even paper bags when it comes to how their manufacturing affects climate change, ozone depletion, water use, air pollution and toxicity for humans.

“Cotton bags must be reused thousands of times before they meet the environmental performance of plastic bags — and, the Denmark researchers write, organic cotton is worse than conventional cotton when it comes to overall environmental impact,” according to Quartz."

Are Plastic, Paper Or Reusable Bags Better For The Environment?

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Is Apple Really Killing iTunes?

SHOWDOWN: Powerbeats Pro VS AirPods 2 VS Galaxy Buds!

Opinion | Will the Legitimacy of the Supreme Court Survive the Census Case? - The New York Times

"By Joshua A. Geltzer, www.nytimes.comView OriginalMay 31st, 2019

Last year, the court overlooked the anti-Muslim animus of the travel ban and ruled for the administration. It should not be taken in again.

Mr. Geltzer is the executive director and a visiting professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

Demonstrators outside the Supreme Court in April protested the proposed addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Photo by: Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Supreme Court is poised to decide one of its most divisive cases since litigation around the travel ban: the challenge to the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Even as the justices deliberate on this case, shocking new reporting offers critical support to opponents of the administration’s position. It strongly suggests that the justification from Trump administration lawyers, in their presentation before the Supreme Court, for adding a census question on citizenship was an outright falsehood, or at the least a deliberate pretext. A recently deceased Republican strategist, whose 2015 study showed that adding a citizenship question to the census would supercharge pro-Republican gerrymandering, provided the actual rationale and wrote key language that informed a Justice Department letter claiming that the citizenship question was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

We have seen this drama before. Last year, the Supreme Court faced similar questions of blatant misrepresentation from the Trump administration in the case on the travel ban. The court overlooked the sketchy details in that case and decided in the administration’s favor.

In this term’s most important matter, the court should not be taken in.

During the travel ban case, I remember sitting in the courtroom astonished when the solicitor general claimed to the justices that President Trump had “made crystal-clear” that he had “no intention of imposing the Muslim ban” — a ban that, as a candidate, Mr. Trump had repeatedly promised.

In such a case, the justices look for evidence of animus against a particular group. And so establishing the connection between Mr. Trump’s pervasive anti-Muslim remarks and the ban he promulgated was a core aspect of the challengers’ argument.

Ultimately, the conservative justices in the majority voted to uphold the ban, deciding that it was a valid exercise of the president’s authority.

In the census case, which the Supreme Court will soon decide, the administration was challenged on the grounds that the addition of a citizenship question violated proper administrative procedures and would violate, by design, the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by discriminating against minority groups and immigrants, especially of certain nationalities.

In three federal lawsuits, judges have ruled against the administration’s action.

Much as I was taken aback a year ago as the travel ban case was argued, during argument day for the census case I was astonished to hear the solicitor general insist that the question’s addition was intended to facilitate enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The facts brought out at trial made clear that this was a mere pretext for a pre-existing commitment to adding a citizenship question.

The information recently revealed from the Republican strategist confirms in dramatic fashion what the trial record already showed: The Trump administration’s actual reason for the citizenship question is entrenching Republican political power. Adding the question, according to opponents of the move, would deter many immigrants from participating in the census and thus from being counted, which would in turn help Republicans.

A letter filed on Thursday with the Supreme Court rightly says that adding the question began as an effort “to create a structural electoral advantage” for “‘Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.’” And a judge in the United States District Court in Manhattan, who had ruled against adding the question, set a hearing for next week to evaluate, among other implications, whether these documents mean that key witnesses lied during trial. The hearing may produce stark evidence directly relevant to the Supreme Court’s handling of the case.

On Thursday, the Justice Department said that the new information was merely “a last-ditch effort to derail the Supreme Court’s consideration of this case” and added that the 2015 study had “played no role” in the department’s request to reinstate a citizenship question.

The Justice Department also said that it will explain itself in a court filing. Perhaps there’s some explanation for why this isn’t the smoking gun it appears to be. But we already have a shooting gallery of smoking guns from the trial record demonstrating that the Trump administration’s justification was mere pretext. The new evidence has made it, at a minimum, a lot smokier.

The legitimacy of our judicial system depends on judges and justices deciding cases on the facts — the real facts, not a distortion of them offered by one party to a case.

The Supreme Court now faces a choice: How will a majority of the justices handle another attempt by the Trump administration to mislead the court? There is a sad history, dating at least as far back as the infamous Korematsu decision during World War II — a shameful decision upholding the forcible relocation and internment of Japanese-Americans — of the court reaching unfortunate decisions based on misrepresentations by the government that are later proved false.

But there’s still time for the court to get the census case right by looking past the pretext to the Trump administration’s real motivation for adding a citizenship question. For the sake of its own legitimacy, the court must do so and avoid getting snookered by Trump’s lawyers."

Opinion | Will the Legitimacy of the Supreme Court Survive the Census Case? - The New York Times

Friday, May 31, 2019

OnePlus 7 Pro Review: Silly Fast!

Trump Says U.S. Will Hit Mexico With 5% Tariffs on All Goods

"President Trump on Thursday outside the White House. The administration also said it planned to seek congressional approval of the new trade pact with Mexico and Canada.Tom Brenner for The New York Times

President Trump on Thursday outside the White House. The administration also said it planned to seek congressional approval of the new trade pact with Mexico and Canada.Tom Brenner for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump said Thursday that he would impose a 5 percent tariff on all imported goods from Mexico beginning June 10, a tax that would “gradually increase” until the flow of undocumented immigrants across the border stopped.

The announcement, which Mr. Trump made on his Twitter feed, said the tariffs would be in place “until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP.”

Trump Says U.S. Will Hit Mexico With 5% Tariffs on All Goods

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Best Lenses for Landscape Photography

The new Google Nest brand could lock Amazon Alexa and other third parties out of your smart home - CNET

"The Amazon Echo and the Nest Learning Thermostat are two of the biggest hit products of the smart home. They've also worked together for years. You can ask Alexa, the voice assistant built into the Echo smart speaker, to change the temperature on your Nest thermostat. After Google I/O, this important smart home connection looks in danger of being cut.

Google and Nest have been technically part of the same team since last year, but last week at Google I/O, Nest and the Google smart home team joined into a single brand called Google Nest. In addition to a new product -- the Nest Hub Max -- and a few price cuts, the joined brand also means Google will encourage current Nest customers to merge their previously siloed Nest accounts with Google.

You'll still be able to keep your Nest account, but it will be relegated to a "maintenance mode" and it will only receive security updates. New features will all be designated for Google accounts. If you already center your home around Google's smart home products -- such as the Google Home smart speaker -- this shift isn't likely to have a big effect on you. In fact, more functionality is likely to be rolled into the Google Home app to help encourage customers to move away from the separate Nest app.

If you primarily use Nest products and automated recipes involving third party gadgets, your current smart home set up could turn dumb as soon as August 31, 2019. On that date, Google is shutting down the Works with Nest program, which allowed third party developers, including Amazon, to control Nest gadgets.

Developers can join the Works with Google Assistant program instead, and many of the major brands that work with Nest already work with Google, but the two programs have a few fundamental differences that could sever the connections you have set up at home.

One way commands

Works with Nest allowed third party gadgets to both give and receive info from Nest products like the Nest Learning Thermostat. Works with Google Assistant is tailored for Google to give the commands to third party products, not the other way around.

Abode is a good example of a smart home company that currently works with both systems. Abode makes one of our favorite DIY security systems. Different Abode kits include a variety of sensors, sirens, cameras, and even gadgets like switches, lights and dimmers.

If you integrate Abode with Google Assistant, you can control Abode's lights, switches and dimmers with a voice command to a nearby Google Home (or any other gadget with Google Assistant built-in). If you integrate Abode with Nest, you can tell your Nest Cam to start recording if an Abode motion sensor causes an alarm. You can turn the Nest Thermostat to away mode automatically when you arm your Abode system. The integrations are more robust because Nest can both give and receive information from Abode.

"We've always believed the smart home experience is made better for customers through interoperability and companies working together to give consumers choice," said Chris Carney, CEO and co-founder of Abode. "While Google's choice to shut down the 'Works with Nest' program is contrary to our belief and against the direction we think the smart home needs to move, it is consumers who will be impacted the most."

Right now, Nest products can control Abode products, and Abode products can control Nest products. With Google Assistant, Nest products could be forced onto a one way street.

If Works with Google Assistant doesn't allow input from third party devices by August 31st, the effect on the smart home will be widespread. For Abode that would mean you would no longer be able to trigger an action from one device based on the behavior of another one. In other words, that Nest Thermostat away mode automation when you arm your Abode system would no longer work.

This disconnect will be most widely felt by Nest device owners that use Alexa as their voice assistant. A Google representative offered some reassurance on this front, "We're working with Amazon to migrate the Nest skill on Amazon Alexa to ensure a smooth transition for Nest customers prior to winding down the Works With Nest program"

If Google adds the necessary code to Works with Google Assistant that will let Amazon control Nest devices, that code could theoretically allow other affected manufacturers to keep their current functionality as well.

"Abode will do everything we can to make this as painless as possible for our customers and have already begun working on enhancing our existing Google Assistant integration and will be adding additional features as they become available to us," said Carney.

An Amazon representative put the onus for the change on Google, "I would defer you to the device manufacturer for questions about their products."

Triggering change

Works with Nest and the Nest app are capable of a few other features that Google will need to add by September if they don't want customers to feel any interruption in service. The Nest app allows you to assign levels of access to members of your home, the Google Home app doesn't. If you add someone to your home through Google, they have access to all of your devices and can even remove you from the home.

To be clear, the Nest app isn't shutting down, but given the way Google is pushing people towards Google accounts and away from Nest accounts, the Google Home app will be the new center of the combined brand.

You still can't set up Nest gadgets using the Google Home app. Nest also uses smart home triggers with a lot of third party gadgets. With Philips Hue, Lifx, Lutron and other smart lighting companies, you can program your lights to flash red if your Nest Protect senses smoke. You can have them turn on and off at various intervals when your Nest Thermostat knows you're away in order to fool would be intruders.

In these cases, the Nest product is the one sending the info to the third party gadget and controlling them accordingly. Google might be able to add similar functionality to Works with Google Assistant even if the company doesn't want to receive commands from third party gadgets, but Google doesn't have similar triggers yet.

You can create grouped commands called routines for Google Assistant. Say "good morning" to your Google Home, and it can turn on the lights, set the temperature of your thermostat and even play your favorite podcast. You can customize a routine to trigger on any command you'd like and can even schedule routines to start at a certain time so you don't need to use a voice command.

Google has also promised that you'll be able to trigger morning routines from your phone's alarm, and the upcoming Nest Hub Max smart display will be able to automatically relay personalized information when it recognizes that you've walked into the room. These are all effectively triggers, which is what Nest uses to flash your lights red, but as of now, Google doesn't let you fully customize triggers.

Routines are limited to voice commands, schedules, and potentially a few extras determined by Google. You can't train one smart gadget to respond to the input of another. When asked for comment, the involved smart home companies have generally said that they're working on it.

"We're working closely with Google to continue to deliver the best possible experience to our customers," said a representative from Philips Hue. "For now, we recommend they keep an eye on the Nest FAQ and Google's and our social channels for more updates as we approach August 31, 2019."

A representative from Lifx said that they "are in regular contact with the team there to develop integrations as soon as we hear about any changes to the architecture."

Matt Swatsky, the Vice President of Lutron said, "We look forward to working with Google on their Works with Google Assistant program to determine the best way to take care of our joint customers and maximize the Lutron user experience."

Nest has similar triggers that can turn on smart sprinklers from Rachio when the Nest Protect smells smoke. "We're always evolving and upgrading our integrations, so this will be no different," said Chris Klein, the CEO of Rachio.

One of the reasons Google might not add these triggers is the company's renewed focus on privacy. Along with the new Google Nest brand, Google announced privacy initiatives to keep customers informed about what data their smart home was collecting and how it was being used. If your Nest Thermostat is going to trigger your Philips Hue lights, it needs to share data with Philips.

Lots can happen in the interim

Three and a half months is a long time in the tech world. A Google representative offered more reassurance over email, "The majority of our most popular Works With Nest partners are already up and running with the Works with the Google Assistant platform and we're actively collaborating with other partners on the transition. We're also working to improve Assistant Routines so people will be able to replicate the top integrations."

Even in the unlikely worst case scenario, in which Google doesn't add any of Nest's existing functionality to Google Assistant before shutting down Works with Nest, lots of related smart home integrations will continue to function normally. You'll still be able to control your Nest gadgets with your Google Home. Any integrations you've built around Google Assistant will be unaffected.

Some major Works with Nest brands, like August, are minimizing the impact. August, the makers of the August Smart Lock, is part of the Works with Nest program. You can see the status of your Nest gadgets in the August app and set your thermostat to Home or Away when you lock or unlock your door.

The change should have "a very minimal impact for August customers," said Jason Johnson, CEO of August. "Our Google Assistant integration doesn't change and that is a far more popular integration."

Nevertheless, Amazon and Google are certainly capable of letting ongoing battles affect customers, and if Alexa stops being able to control Nest products, that could have a huge and negative impact on a lot of smart home customers.

Google Nest launched with a cool new product, price cuts, and a renewed focus on privacy. The joined brand makes sense given that the two teams were already ostensibly part of the same unit. Still, joining the brands and ending Works with Nest could make a lot of smart homes much dumber, and Google has a lot of work to do before August 31st to make sure that doesn't happen.

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The new Google Nest brand could lock Amazon Alexa and other third parties out of your smart home - CNET