Friday Five: WhatsApp tackles misinformation

Zone’s Martha Green handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. Google gives Play Music the boot

Google is shutting down its Play Music service in the UK this October, with plans to focus on the newer YouTube Music app instead. The decision comes as, despite being preinstalled as the default music app on Android phones, Google Play Music has failed to attract as many subscribers as rivals like Spotify and Apple Music.

Initially launched as Google Music in 2011 and designed to store users’ music collections in the cloud, the service faced internal competition with the creation of YouTube Music in 2015. Fortunately, users of the soon-to-be defunct app will have until December to transfer their playlists and purchases over to YouTube Music, which also offers free music streaming in more than 80 countries.

2. Doodling doctors give inkling of future tech

Okay, we’re going full sci-fi with this one. A team from the University of Houston has developed a new kind of tech that uses special semiconductor ink and a regular ballpoint pen to draw sensors right onto your body.

The sweat-resistant sensors, which are quick and easy to apply using a stencil, send and receive data via Bluetooth to a nearby wireless battery pack. They last for a week and any ink that flakes off can simply be drawn over again. The breakthrough in skin sensor technology has several applications, from monitoring heart rate and hydration levels, to actually speeding up the healing process.

3. House viewings go virtual

House hunting in the age of coronavirus has received a dramatic makeover courtesy of VR. Lockdown meant buyers were unable to visit properties, which caused the housing market to slow massively. But thanks to virtual reality headsets, house viewings can now be completed from the comfort of your own home.

Not only do VR headsets provide greater detail than website photos, they also save time for staff and customers while keeping contact to a minimum. You’ll have to use your own headset, and currently only 8% of Zoopla’s listings have an option for a virtual tour, but it’s a handy use for a technology that is yet to go truly mainstream. Unfortunately though, VR can’t help you when it comes to the actual house move.

4. Insta and TikTok in short-form showdown

As Chinese short-form video platform TikTok grapples with the possibility of a ban in the US, Instagram is looking to fill the void and steal top spot with its new Reels feature. That’s right, almost four years to the day since it copied Snapchat Stories, the Facebook-owned social media titan is up to its usual tricks once more.

Reels offers many of the creative tools found in the main part of the app, such as augmented reality effects and the option to add music to videos. The feature has already been tested in India, which incidentally was TikTok’s largest market before it was banned by the government. Does anyone else spot a pattern developing?

5. WhatsApp targets spread of misinformation

Remember that time the army was parked on the M25, poised to plunge London into an Orwellian lockdown? How about when Wembley Stadium was requisitioned to cook one massive lasagne? Well, in what can only be termed ‘good news’, instant messaging platform WhatsApp has announced it is piloting a fact-checking feature.

A magnifying glass icon will now appear next to messages that have been forwarded multiple times, giving users the option to search Google for the message’s contents. The feature is being tested in the UK and several other countries, and with pandemic misinformation spreading like wildfire and the US election just around the corner, it hasn’t come a moment too soon.

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