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Saudi IT ministry decides to unblock WhatsApp, Viber and Skype

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RIYADH: Online video calling apps, including WhatsApp, Skype and Viber, will be unblocked in Saudi Arabia from next week, the Minister for Communications and Information Technology Abdullah bin Amer Al-Sawahah announced today.

“Negotiations with telecommunication service providers and related bodies are underway to enable customers to use the apps to make voice and video calls of the “highest quality”,” Al-Sawahah said in an interview.

“However, the usage of the apps will be heavily monitored by the government bodies and service providers,” he added.

The minister further went on to add that telecom companies will also be required to provide quarterly index of complaints filed by subscribers in order to ensure transparency.

The kingdom imposed a ban on the video-calling apps in 2013, after the government claimed that they “do not meet the regulatory conditions”.

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Electric scooter-sharing moves into the fast lane

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WASHINGTON: How fast is the electric scooter-sharing craze growing? Fast enough to be declared a nuisance and kicked off the streets of San Francisco and a handful of others cities to allow local officials to mull regulations.

And fast enough to draw big investments to allow nimble startups to reach billion-dollar valuations. In the US capital Washington, the electric two-wheelers have become a fixture on city bike paths, zipping along at speeds up to 25 kilometers (15 miles) per hour, sometimes veering onto sidewalks despite warnings to the contrary.

The scooters are “dockless,” meaning they can be rented and left at any location, unlocked with a smartphone app which also indicates the location of the vehicles, in a model similar to new-style bike-sharing startups. Most systems charge $1 to unlock the scooter and 15 cents per minute, so a 10-minute trip would cost $2.50.

“The economics work very well” for both the consumer and the companies, said Sanjay Dastoor, founder and chief executive of Skip Scooters, one of four startups authorized by Washington to deploy up to 400 dockless scooters.

Dastoor offered no specific figures but said riders get inexpensive transportation for short-term trips and companies are able to recoup the costs of the scooter quickly.

Just this year, dockless scooter programs have been launched in a dozen US cities and college campuses. On Friday, California-based Limebike was set to launch scooters in Paris as part of a global expansion plan.

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Delivery robots hit the road in Beijing

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BEIJING: Self-driving delivery robots have emerged in Beijing’s Haidian District delivering packages to their customers.

The service was launched on Monday by China’s leading e-commerce platform JD.com. More than 20 delivery robots have been put on the street to deliver parcels purchased by customers from the platform. Destinations of the initial deliveries cover residential communities nearby JD’s distribution centre in Shangdi and Zhongguancun Software Park.

With a maximum speed of 15 km per hour, each robot can carry up to 30 parcels at a time. Each robot is equipped with radar and sensors to help them recognize traffic lights and their surroundings. Customers will receive a message from JD.com when the robot is about to arrive, and are able to pick up their parcels through face recognition, inputting a code or using a mobile phone app.

“It is very convenient. I believe delivery robot technology will continue to improve. One day, I expect to see them in our buildings, not just waiting outside,” said a JD customer surnamed Cui.

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Google desktop browser support for Android Messages

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ISLAMABAD: Google is set to roll out desktop browser support for Android Messages, allowing users to send, view and receive messages they get on their Android devices to their personal computers (PCs).

The search engine giant plans to roll out the feature that supports text, images and stickers on the web in the coming weeks, The Verge reported. This is reportedly one of the first significant steps in Google’s “push towards chat”, which is the company’s implementation of Rich Communication Services (RCS) inside Android Messages.

“To get started, on the Android Messages website, you scan a quick response (QR) code using the Android Messages mobile app, which creates a link between the two,” the report said. Other improvements to Android Messenger include built-in graphics interchange format (GIF) search, support for smart replies on more carriers, in-line link previews and easy copy/paste for two-factor authentication messages.

According to the report, Google has recommended users to toggle their WiFi network “off and on again” in case they experience problems with the feature. The feature would also function on cellular data.

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