Tuesday, November 24, 2020
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Instagram and Messenger get ‘vanish mode’ for disappearing chats

Facebook is giving users a new way to chat with disappearing messages. Messenger and Instagram will soon get a new “vanish mode” feature for ephemeral messages.

When enabled — via a swipe up on a chat — messages sent while in vanish mode will disappear as soon as you leave the conversation. And, like Snapchat, you’ll be notified if the person you’re chatting with takes a screenshot of a conversation. Messenger already had disappearing messages as part of its “secret conversation” feature, but it required several steps and setting a timer for each message to disappear individually. For Instagram, vanish mode is the first time users will be able to have the option to have their chats disappear, though it requires opting in to Instagram’s new Messenger-powered chat features.

Vanish mode is available to Messenger users in the US now and will expand to additional countries, and to Instagram, “soon.”

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Get a lifetime subscription to XSplit VCam for $20

Video game streamers and content creators, not too long ago, were the only people who required an at-home video setup. That’s no longer the case in 2020. The rise of remote working, distance learning and social distancing has forced much of the population to spend their days in front of their computers at home. So, although internet personalities may have already had the expensive camera, audio gear and green screen required for an at-home video setup, that certainly wasn’t the case for the rest of us.

Yet, thanks to advancements in technology and the popularity of activities like streaming games, people these days don’t need to dedicate a large amount of cash and space to achieve a high-quality video setup from home. That’s where software likeXSplit VCam shines.

At its core, XSplit VCam offers professional-level background replacement, removal and blurring that’s possible with any webcam and without the need for expensive green screens, complicated lighting setups and tons of space.

For starters, it lets you replace your background with an image, video, webpage or YouTube video. This functionality makes it quick and easy to have the perfect setup for your streaming and video-calling needs. So, whether you want to liven things up for a stream or look professional for a business call, this software has you covered. You can also add a bokeh effect while streaming or on a video call. That means you get a Portrait-style look and feel when on camera, which puts you in focus and blurs out your background. In other words, you can maintain privacy, hide any mess and improve the quality of your video — all with the same tool.

Equally important, this software is compatible with everything you need to or already use in 2020. XSplit VCam works with streaming apps such as Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), Streamlabs and XSplit. Meaning, you can broadcast your streams to every popular platform where gamers come to watch and hang out online, from Twitch and YouTube to Mixer, Facebook and more. Plus, since it integrates with Zoom, Google Meet, Skype and every other video conferencing app you’ve had to download this year, you can conveniently use it for work or when video chatting with family and friends.

Streams and video calls are now part of everyday life. XSplit VCam is a practical solution for navigating this new normal. Typically $49,a lifetime subscription to XSplit VCam (Windows Only) is on sale for a limited time for $20, 59% off its original price tag.

Prices are subject to change.

Engadget is teaming up withStackSocialto bring you deals on the latest headphones, gadgets, tech toys, and tutorials. This post does not constitute editorial endorsement, and we earn a portion of all sales. If you have any questions about the products you see here or previous purchases, please contact StackSocial supporthere.

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At these companies, workers are required to take time off

Unlimited paid time off sounds great on paper.

You can take as much time as you need. And you don’t have to submit requests, track days or worry about saving time for any unplanned events. But several companies have found that workers often end up taking less time off instead of more.

So some companies are trying a different approach: mandatory time off.

Utah-based photo book company Chatbooks offered unlimited time off since it launched in 2014, but many employees weren’t taking extended time off — especially since the pandemic, said Dan Jimenez, president and chief operating officer. Himself included.

“I was the biggest culprit.”

As a result, “people were having a hard time with their mental and emotional health at work,” he said.

To help, the company, which has about 150 full- and part-time employees, implemented a mandatory paid time off policy: Employees are expected to take five consecutive business days off every quarter.

“It is more about setting a minimum than a maximum,” said Jimenez. “Unlimited PTO on its own just doesn’t work.”

For his first mandated week off, he spent time with his family, and went hiking and mountain biking.

The company still has unlimited time off for things like doctor’s appointments or children’s school events. And if a worker wants to extend their days beyond a week, they can coordinate with their manager to work it out. Currently, mandated days off only apply to full-time workers.

The only time employees can’t take their mandated time off is October 1 through December 23 because that’s the company’s busiest time. Workers can still take a day or two if needed during that period. After the holidays, the entire company shuts down for two weeks.

Making sure everyone disconnects

Airline marketing strategy firm SimpliFlying has been mandating its workers take time off since 2016.

The company, which currently has five employees, used to have an unlimited vacation policy, but some were using it more than others.

“Some people took time off regularly, while others were still working weekends and never taking time off. There was a huge disparity,” said founder and CEO Shashank Nigam.

The mandatory policy initially required workers to take a week off every seven weeks, but that turned out to be too frequent. Employees now must take a week off every eight weeks. Sick days are still unlimited.

As a small company, Nigam had to put a few requirements in place to make sure the vacations don’t disrupt business operations. While two colleagues can be out the same week, they can’t take back-to-back weeks off. “There always needs to be a handover before the next person goes off.”

And here’s how serious the company is about ensuring employees disconnect: If you work during your time off, like checking in on Slack or responding to emails, you won’t get paid for the week. They also give clients at least three weeks notice when someone is going to take time off.

Nigam doesn’t want his employees thinking about work when they are off. “You come back refreshed. You come with smarter inputs and are more creative.”

‘Unplugged Days’

When the pandemic hit and data platform company Cloudera went fully remote, managers noticed workers weren’t taking enough time off, even though the company has an unlimited policy for its US workers.

So this summer, the company started regularly extending weekends to help employees disconnect.

“We realized we needed to be thinking of the mental health of employees and how to give them some additional days off,” said Bob Mahan, Cloudera chief human resources officer.

“Unplugged Days” happen every three weeks. First, employees get a Friday off to make a three-day weekend. After the next three weeks pass, there’s a four-day weekend and after another three weeks, a five-day weekend. And then the cycle repeats.

During Unplugged Days, the entire company shuts down, except for a few employees to handle any customer issues (they get days off at different times). Workers aren’t supposed to send any emails, schedule meetings or perform any other work.

“We set the tone from the top that these are supposed to be completely unplugged days,” said Mahan

To date, employees have 12 Unplugged Days, and 20 more are scheduled between now and April 2021. The company plans to keep the Unplugged Days as long as it is remote.

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Welcome to the hot seat

Zoom has zipped at hyperspeed along an all-too-familiar arc for hot Silicon Valley startups — from a ubiquitous D.C. darling to an object of suspicion and scrutiny.

Just weeks after emerging as the video platform of the locked-down era, where millions of people and some of Capitol Hill’s biggest players are holding business meetings, yoga classes, play dates and happy hours online, the nine-year-old California company faces scrutiny from Congress and elsewhere for a barrage of security and privacy lapses. Those include revelations about leaked videos, undisclosed sharing of personal data, weaker-than-advertised encryption and a disturbing new form of mass harassment known as “Zoom bombing.”

The furor has already brought a class-action lawsuit in California, investigations by attorneys general in states such as Connecticut and Florida, and pressure from members of Congress to tighten its practices. It also increases the odds that whenever the Capitol returns to normal, Zoom — a company with up to now little-to-no Washington lobbying muscle and almost no history of campaign donations — will join industry giants like Facebook and Google in the hot seat of D.C.’s tech backlash.

The speed of Zoom’s political rise and fall has been dizzying, considering how many years it took for much larger tech companies to see their popularity curdle in Washington.

“There’s a new thing almost every hour,” Justin Brookman, consumer privacy and technology policy director for Consumer Reports, said of the stream of damaging Zoom revelations.

“It’s like if Facebook had operated for 10 years under the radar and all the questionable project decisions that they made kind of got baked in, and then all the sudden they became wildly famous and then it all came to [a head] at once,” he added.

Zoom Chief Executive Eric Yuan, who founded the company in 2011, chalked up its latest woes to the sudden glare of the spotlight, writing this week that “we did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home.”

The company said the peak number of daily participants on its conferences has multiplied more than 20-fold from December to March, soaring above 200 million a day. Zoom has also quickly become a staple on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Silicon Valley’s own Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) publicly using the service for meetings and Q&As with reporters.

Yuan promised to focus the company’s resources over the next three months on addressing the regulatory and consumer concerns. But lawmakers and other government leaders said they’re not letting up until the company takes meaningful steps to fix its flaws.

“My concerns have not been allayed at all,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Thursday in an interview, referring to the use of “Zoom bombing” to spread hate speech and pornographic content in settings like online classes. “A blog post is no substitute for action and the vile hate groups are continuing to harass Zoom users, intruding on their meetings and spreading their abuse, and I want to see Zoom actually protect its users, not just try to message the problem away.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said Zoom’s security lapses could disrupt efforts to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

“As so many American businesses depend on video conferencing services to keep our economy going during this pandemic-forced new normal, we cannot risk complacency in our online privacy and security,” Blackburn said in a statement. “Zoom must do more to enact stronger security standards and immediately halt unauthorized data sharing with third parties.”

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Why are we hiding our personal finances from loved ones?

While romance may be brewing ahead of Valentine’s Day, so are some dirty secrets.

About 44% of U.S. adults admit to hiding a bank account or debt, or to spending more money than their partner would be comfortable with, according to a new study from CreditCards.com, which surveyed 1,378 adults who are married, in a civil partnership or living with their partner. That number was included in a survey of 2,501 adults from CreditCards.com.

So why are people committing financial infidelity? More than one-third say they do it for privacy or a desire to control their own finances.

“Money is such a taboo,” says Ted Rossman, an industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “People would rather talk about other uncomfortable topics like religion or political views than money. This is really unfortunate because hiding that kind of a secret can hold back your financial future and undermine trust.”

Retirement planning: Millennials are stashing money away earlier

In sickness and in health, but not in debt: Young Americans avoid ‘I do’

Roughly 34% of the 1,378 respondents say they believe they’ve spent more than their significant other would tolerate.

About 17% of those surveyed have kept a secret account (10% credit card, 9% savings, 8% checking) while 12% have carried some amount of hidden debt.

Americans between the ages of 24 and 39 in relationships are much more likely than Gen Xers and baby boomers to have committed financial infidelity with their partner, the study shows.

One reason why: Millennials are more likely than Gen Xers and boomers to have divorced parents, which has likely caused them to be more protective of their own finances, according to experts. Overall, 57% of these millennials have committed financial infidelity compared to 45% of Gen Xers and 37% of boomers.

Over one-quarter of adults say that financial infidelity is worse than an affair. That was out of a larger pool of respondents regardless of relationship status.

Men (47%) were slightly more likely than women (43%) to admit to keeping a financial secret.

About 21% of respondents say they have kept their finances hidden in case a relationship ends poorly.

Those in the highest income bracket, making at least $80,000 a year, were much more likely (39%) than those in lower-income brackets (20%) to say they kept secret finances because they were “embarrassed” about the way they handled their money.

“An awful lot of people are keeping financial secrets from their partner,” Rossman says. “But these topics don’t have to be scary, intimidating or embarrassing. If you’re sharing a life with somebody, it’s something you need to talk about.”

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Britney Spears posts reassuring message

“All is well,” and Britney Spears will be back soon. That’s what the singer told her supporters Tuesday night.

The pop star icon went on Instagram to address rumors that have circulated on social media in the past weeks and let her social media followers know she is doing “what’s best at the moment” and that she needs a “little bit of privacy to deal with all the hard things that life is throwing my way.”

“My family has been going through a lot of stress and anxiety lately so I just needed time to deal,” she said. On her caption, Spears added, “You may not know this about me, but I am strong, and stand up for what I want!”

Earlier this month, People magazine reported the star had checked into a facility to seek “all-encompassing wellness treatment.” At the time, Spears posted a photo about self-care on Instagram with the caption, “We all need to take time for a little “me time.”

In January, the “Circus” singer also stepped back from her “Domination” residency in Las Vegas because of her father’s health issues, who, she wrote, was hospitalized and “almost died.”

In a press release, her reps said Spears’ father was hospitalized due to his colon “spontaneously” rupturing and remained in the hospital for 28 days.

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Trump issues first veto of his presidency

The resolution against his emergency declaration was a stunning bipartisan rebuke to Trump, but lawmakers currently do not have the votes to overturn his veto.

Donald Trump issued the first veto of his presidency Friday afternoon, rejecting a congressional resolution that would have blocked him from funding his border wall without congressional approval.

“Consistent with the law and the legislative process designed by our founders, today I am vetoing this resolution,“ Trump said. “Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution, and I have the duty to veto it. And I’m very proud to veto it.”

The president’s veto comes a day after 12 Republicans joined Senate Democrats to rebuke the president’s decision to declare a national emergency last month in order to redirect funds to build a wall on the southern border.

The resolution was a stunning bipartisan rebuke to Trump, but lawmakers currently do not have the votes to overturn his veto.

Trump on Friday was flanked by a crowd as he approved the veto in the Oval Office, including Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General William Barr and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. A group relatives of people purportedly killed by undocumented immigrants, called “angel parents” by the president, and law enforcement representatives also attended the veto signing.

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Twitter tests conversation ‘subscriptions’

Twitter is testing yet another new feature: a “subscribe to conversation” button that would let users follow a thread without liking or replying to it. Twitter user and software engineer Jane Manchun Wong (who’s known for finding this kind of thing) discovered the prototype in the Android version of the app. In response to her tweet about it, Twitter said this is an attempt to make the platform more conversational. It’s now the latest in a flood of changes we’ve seen from Twitter.

This new tool adds a button to the top right corner of threads. If you click it, you’ll be notified when additional tweets are added to the thread. Because you don’t need to “heart” or comment in a thread to receive updates, this could add a bit of anonymity. There’s no indication yet if or when Twitter will deploy the change platform-wide, though.

Earlier this week, the company released its experimental beta testing app, Twttr, which will let early adopters test new Twitter features. First, it’s giving threads a chat-like look with color coding and indentation. At the beginning of the month, the company confirmed it’s working out a way to hide unwanted replies en masse (this was also discovered by Wong).

In February, we learned the company is testing a way to preview user profileswithout leaving your timeline. It’s also testing an “original tweeter” label, which will show which account started a thread, and it added a chronological timeline button on Android. Finally, at SXSW, Twitter revealed a new camera for the app, which will make it easier to share photos and videos.

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Can House Democrats really protect Obamacare?

House Democrats who swept back into power on the promise to protect people with pre-existing conditions face tough legal and political choices as they try to make good on that vow.

Those promises galvanized millions of voters. But now, like the Republicans previously elected on promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, they face the formidable challenge of turning campaign rhetoric into reality.

And with the Senate and White House still in Republican hands, Democratic leaders have only one surefire weapon in their arsenal: a resolution to jump into the court fight over Obamacare’s consumer protections. That would empower the House Counsel to intervene in the lawsuit brought by 20 conservative state attorneys general that threatens to abolish the health care law.

“There’s a clear picture that the thing we will definitely do quickly is intervene in the lawsuit” to defend the law, a Democratic leadership aide told POLITICO.

Beyond that, their strategy is still up for grabs: Several key Democrats promise a more confrontational approach that includes early showdown votes with Republicans in Congress over the law’s future. First on that agenda: legislation strengthening Obamacare’s popular pre-existing condition protections that would force GOP lawmakers to go on record for or against a law that many worked for years to kill.

“Let’s nail them down,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). “A bunch of Republican candidates did a complete U-turn on the pre-existing condition question, and they made it back into office based on that profession of faith. Now, everybody should be asked to commit and vote.”

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