New story in Technology from Time: Apple Teases 230 New Emoji in Celebration of World Emoji Day

July 17 marks World Emoji Day and in celebration, Apple teased a set of new emoji it will release with the next iOS update, 13.0, this fall. As July 17 is the date shown on the calendar emoji, it’s only fitting.

Emoji have gone beyond being a simple way to communicate emotions to a fully-fledged cultural phenomenon. The word ’emoji’ was an Oxford Dictionary Word-of-the-Year winner in 2015. And they were even turned into a 2017 movie that generated over $200 million.

What emoji will Apple release next?

Over 200 emoji are set to be released with the 13.0 update, according to emoji blog Emojipedia. This upcoming collection will have a large focus on inclusion and accessibility. Some of the upcoming emoji will include people who use hearing aids, wheelchairs, guide dogs and people with prosthetic limbs.

Previously, emoji featuring more than one person were the default yellow but with the upcoming update, users can now select the skin tone along with the gender of couples holding hands to include those who are in interracial relationships. Some of the other emoji featured in the upcoming launch include a sari, falafel, flamingo and the much-anticipated waffle.

It is safe to say emoji are here to stay but where did they originate?

What’s the history of emoji?

The origins of the word ’emoji’ are Japanese, where it translates to “picture character.” But long before the emoji, however, there was the emoticon. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, the emoticon originated in 1982 at Carnegie Mellon University where Dr. Scott E. Fahlman asked that jokes and serious topics on an online message board be depicted with either smiling face 🙂 or frowning face emoticons 😦 to represent intent. The symbols spread beyond Carnegie Mellon and entered the realms of internet chatrooms and websites.

The first creation of the emoji we know and use today was created by Japanese artist Shigetaka Kurita in 1999. He only had 144 pixels to use to make his original sketches, he tells CNN in an interview. He said he created the emoji to create an efficient flow of information for those working at a telecommunications company in Japan, creating 176 designs in the process.

At first, the emoji only circulated in Japan with other media competitors stealing the concept to create emoji for their own use. It wasn’t until the late 2000s when American companies like Apple and Google saw the role that emoji could play.

Classic emoji like the crying with joy, red heart and thumbs-up emoji typically rank among the most used on Twitter. There is no way to measure what emoji are most widely used over texts. However, every July 17, Emojipedia announces the World Emoji Awards, and gives them to the emoji from the latest update with the most page visits on the blog’s site. This year’s winner was the smiling face with hearts emoji, followed by the pleading face and woozy face emoji.

While emoji can capture a myriad of emotions with one image, many emoji have been misinterpreted from their original meanings. With emoji originating from Japan, some don’t always translate. What many people know as the praying emoji, or even less commonly the high-five emoji, is actually neither. The actual meaning behind the 🙏 emoji is supposed to represent the thank-you gesture in Japanese culture.

Many interpret the 😪 emoji as a sad or tired person with a tear falling from their eye, but the “sleepy face” emoji represents a person who is falling asleep, with the “teardrop” actually being mucus. Grossed out? Well, this is a common depiction in Japanese culture.

What are some of the most controversial emoji?

Apple isn’t perfect and iOS users have no trouble pointing out when an emoji doesn’t meet their criteria.

Arguably the most controversial emoji created was the handgun. Brining attention to mass shootings and police brutality, more people criticized the need for the handgun emoji. In 2015, a middle school student faced felony charges for sending an Instagram comment that read “Watch out, I’m coming” followed by a gun, a knife and a bomb emoji. Additionally, a French man who was sentenced to three months in jail for sending his girlfriend a “death threat by image” by using the emoji. In the midst of Apple’s effort to offer broader, more inclusive emoji in its collection, the handgun was replaced with a squirt gun.

The bagel emoji also sparked a controversy of its own as many users complained about the manufactured appearance and the lack of cream cheese on the bagel. Cream cheese manufacturer Philadelphia started a petition for Apple to change the “dry, sad bagel emoji.” Nearly 1,300 people stood in signed the petition with one supporter commenting “Bagels without cream cheese is a sin against mankind.”

Apple listened to the cream cheese fans and updated the emoji with a healthy schmear of cream cheese and a more detailed bagel.

Apple and the Unicode Consortium, the company in charge of emoji design and development, faced similar criticism with the original launch of the lobster emoji. Most lobster lovers and Mainers were thrilled that the crustacean would be a part of the emoji lineup, including Maine Sen. Angus King who tweeted his excitement.

Others, however, were quick to point out that the emoji was anatomically incorrect with the lobster missing its two back legs and the tail being misshapen. Once the uproar brought it to Unicode’s attention, the lobster was redesigned.

On Twitter, users are taking celebrating World Emoji Day by sharing riddles, art and even the week’s forecast in, you guessed it, emoji.

 

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New story in Technology from Time: E.U. Investigates Amazon Over Use of Retailer Info To Gain Competitive Edge

(BRUSSELS) — The European Union is opening a new front in its quest to more closely regulate big tech companies, saying Wednesday it was investigating whether U.S. online giant Amazon uses data from independent retailers to gain an illegal edge when selling its own products.

EU antitrust Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said she is taking a “very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer, to assess its compliance with EU competition rules.”

In addition to selling its own products, Amazon also allows third-party retailers to sell their goods through its site. Last year, more than half of the items sold on Amazon worldwide were from third-party sellers.

The EU opened a preliminary probe into the issue last year, and Vestager said it has shown that “Amazon appears to use competitively sensitive information – about marketplace sellers, their products and transactions on the marketplace.” Using the information could give it an unfair competitive edge.

In a parallel case, Germany’s competition regulator said Wednesday that Amazon was changing some of its business conditions for traders on its online marketplace worldwide after it raised concerns about some terms. The regulator said that the changes affect a range of issues such as a one-sided exemption from liability to Amazon’s benefit as well as the place of jurisdiction for disputes.

Other EU countries like Austria, Luxembourg and Italy are also independently investigating Amazon but EU spokeswoman Lucia Caudet said the national probes did not overlap with the EU investigation.

Amazon said it would cooperate with the EU authorities, according to media reports.

The EU’s investigations into major companies like Amazon have led the way in a global push to more tightly regulate tech giants, as many governments wonder if they are becoming too big for the good of the wider economy.

Among the key questions are not only whether the tech giants abuse their market dominance to choke off competition, potentially stifling choice for consumers, but also whether they are adequately protecting users data and paying their fair share of taxes in countries where they operate.

Tech companies do huge business across Europe but pay taxes only in the EU nation where their local headquarters are based, often a low-tax haven like Luxembourg or the Netherlands. The result is they pay a far lower rate than traditional businesses. France has tried to address the problem by unilaterally imposing a 3% tax on big tech companies’ revenue in the country. The U.S. government is not happy about that and finance ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy countries will discuss the issue this week in Paris.

Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Commission President elect who should take up her role in November, has said she will try to be more vigilant to make sure such companies pay enough taxes.

Amazon has already been the target of previous EU investigations. Two years ago, officials ordered it to pay $295 million in back taxes to Luxembourg after finding that the company profited from a tax avoidance deal with the tiny European country. EU officials also investigated Amazon’s e-book business.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the House Judiciary Committee is investigating the market power of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. Congress is this week holding a two-day hearing on Facebook’s plan to create a digital currency, Libra, which governments in the U.S. and Europe have been skeptical about.

New story in Technology from Time: Facebook’s Digital Currency Plan to Face Questions by Congress

(WASHINGTON) — Facebook’s ambitious plan to create a financial eco-system based on a digital currency faces questions from lawmakers, as it’s shadowed by negative comments from President Donald Trump, his treasury secretary and the head of the Federal Reserve.

Congress begins two days of hearings Tuesday on the currency planned by Facebook, to be called Libra, starting with the Senate Banking Committee. Meanwhile, a House Judiciary subcommittee will extend its bipartisan investigation of the market power of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.

Trump tweeted last week that the new currency, Libra, “will have little standing or dependability.” Both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jerome Powell have expressed serious concerns recently that Libra could be used for illicit activity.

The Treasury Department has “very serious concerns that Libra could be misused by money launderers and terrorist financers,” Mnuchin told reporters at the White House on Monday. “This is indeed a national security issue.”

Facebook has “a lot of work to do before we get to the point where we’re comfortable with it,” Mnuchin said.

Already under intense scrutiny from regulators and Congress over privacy and market dominance, Facebook stirred anger on Capitol Hill last month with the unveiling of its plan to create a financial ecosystem based on a digital currency. Senate and House hearings went on the calendar, and the Democratic head of the House Financial Services Committee, which is holding Wednesday’s hearing, called on Facebook to suspend the plan until Congress and regulators could review it.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said that Facebook, with some 2 billion users around the world, “is continuing its unchecked expansion and extending its reach into the lives of its users.” She called Libra “a new Swiss-based financial system” that potentially is too big to fail and could require a taxpayer bailout.

David Marcus, the Facebook executive leading the project, says in his testimony prepared for Tuesday’s hearing by the Senate Banking Committee that Libra “is about developing a safe, secure and low-cost way for people to move money efficiently around the world. We believe that Libra can make real progress toward building a more inclusive financial infrastructure.”

Facebook agrees with Powell’s view that the government’s review of Libra must be “patient and thorough, rather than a sprint to implementation,” Marcus’ statement says. “The time between now and launch is designed to be an open process and subject to regulatory oversight and review. In fact, I expect that this will be the broadest, most extensive and most careful pre-launch oversight by regulators and central banks in FinTech’s history. We know we need to take the time to get this right.”

The planned digital currency is billed as a “stablecoin” backed by deposits in sovereign currencies such as the dollar, euro and Japanese yen — unlike bitcoin, ether or other digital currencies. Promising low fees, it could open online commerce to millions of people around the world who lack access to bank accounts and make it cheaper to send money across borders. But it also raises concerns over the privacy of users’ data and the potential for criminals to use it for money laundering and fraud.

To address privacy concerns, Facebook created a nonprofit oversight association, with dozens of partners including PayPal, Uber, Spotify, Visa and MasterCard, to govern Libra. As one among many in the association, Facebook says it won’t have any special rights or privileges. It also created a “digital wallet” subsidiary, Calibra, to work on the technology, separately from its main social media business. While Facebook owns and controls Calibra, it won’t see financial data from it, the company says.

Mnuchin’s comments came a few days after Trump tweeted: “I am not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air. Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity.”

If they want to get into the financial business, Facebook and its dozens of partner companies in the venture will have to accept the kind of tight regulation that banks are under, Trump said.

Powell, a powerful financial regulator who is independent of the Trump administration, told Congress last week that Facebook’s plan “raises a lot of serious concerns, and those would include around privacy, money laundering, consumer protection, financial stability. Those are going to need to be thoroughly and publicly assessed and evaluated before this proceeds.”

Facebook’s challenges in Washington go beyond Libra. Later Tuesday, at a Judiciary subcommittee hearing, Facebook will be among four big tech companies — along with Google, Amazon and Apple — testifying about their impact on the innovation and entrepreneurship of smaller companies. It’s the latest chapter in lawmakers’ examination of the industry.

“What happens in tech is that one big company grows to control a lot of stuff, and if it’s allowed to stay there for too long, it slows down the sector,” Timothy Wu, a professor of law, science and technology at Columbia Law School, has said. “Companies like Google and Facebook have come to hold too much power. There’s a growing sense that they have too much control over information, news, advertising, even who we are and what’s going on.”

Wu is among the expert witnesses scheduled to appear before the antitrust panel, which also will hear from executives from the four tech companies.

Early Tuesday, it was Google that was on the receiving end of Trump tweet.

Over the weekend, billionaire investor Peter Thiel said the FBI and the CIA should open an investigation to determine if Google had been infiltrated by Chinese intelligence, according to Axios.

According to the Axios story, Theil said Google was “engaged in the seemingly treasonous decision to work with the Chinese military and not with the US military.”

Before 5 a.m. Eastern, Trump tweeted about Thiel, “A great and brilliant guy who knows this subject better than anyone! The Trump Administration will take a look!”

New story in Technology from Time: Facebook’s Getting Slapped With a $5 Billion FTC Privacy Settlement

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission approved a record privacy settlement against Facebook requiring the social media company to pay about $5 billion to resolve an investigation stemming from the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

The FTC’s settlement was approved by a vote of 3-2, according to two people familiar with the matter. It caps a probe that opened in March 2018 after news that Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm hired by President Donald Trump’s campaign, obtained user data from a researcher who created a personality quiz app on the social network.

The FTC’s settlement, the largest privacy fine in the agency’s history, marks the most significant action yet against Facebook over a series of mishaps that have compromised users’ data and sent the company reeling from one crisis to another. The mishandling of data has spurred efforts in Washington to pass legislation to better protect the personal information collected by the nation’s technology firms before a window closes ahead of the 2020 presidential campaign.

As the probe dragged on, FTC Chairman Joe Simons came under increasing pressure from lawmakers and privacy advocates to craft a tough settlement that would protect users’ privacy. The deal is likely to leave many critics of the company unsatisfied given the agency’s two Democratic commissioners, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Rohit Chopra, voted against it.

Facebook declined to comment.

While the FTC settlement removes a major burden weighing on the company, Facebook is still grappling with regulatory scrutiny on a host of other fronts. European Union officials are pursuing multiple data-protection investigations, while U.K. antitrust authorities are examining the company’s dominance in digital advertising.

In the U.S., the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission opened investigations related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook declined to comment on the status of those probes. Separately, the attorney general for Washington, D.C., has sued the company, claiming it failed to safeguard users’ data. Other state attorneys general are also investigating.

The FTC is poised to continue scrutiny of Facebook. As part of a broad agreement with the Justice Department dividing oversight of four of the biggest tech companies, the agency will take responsibility for a potential antitrust investigation into Facebook. One area of focus is likely to be the company’s acquisitions of Instagram and Whatsapp.

The settlement ranks among the highest at the FTC, which reached a $10 billion settlement with Volkswagen AG in 2016 for deceptive advertising in the emission-cheating scandal involving diesel models. The agency’s previous record fine in a privacy action came in 2012, when Alphabet Inc.’s Google paid $22.5 million to settle claims it misrepresented its privacy assurances to Apple Inc.’s Safari users.

The FTC can only impose fines on companies that have previously agreed to settle claims with the agency under consent decrees, but not on first-time offenders. The agency has lobbied for greater authority to penalize wrongdoers in privacy cases, though some have questioned whether it was up to the job of taking advantage of the limited power it has now.

The commission’s 2011 consent decree with Facebook addressed a litany of deceptive practices by the social-media company. Facebook, for example, allowed profile information — photos, education, place of employment — that a user chose to restrict to “Only Friends” or “Friends of Friends” to be accessible to apps that the person’s friends used. Facebook also promised users that it wouldn’t share personal information about them with advertisers when in fact the company identified to advertisers the users who clicked on their ads or to whom ads were targeted.

Under the 2011 settlement, Facebook was required to implement a privacy program, obtain express consent from users before making changes that override privacy preferences, and undergo regular privacy audits.

The Cambridge Analytica incident stems from a personality-quiz app offered to Facebook users by a Cambridge University researcher. About 270,000 people downloaded the app, allowing the researcher to access data about both those individuals and their friends. The information was subsequently sold to Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook has said the researchers obtained users’ data with their consent and sold the information to Cambridge Analytica in violation of Facebook’s policies.

New story in Technology from Time: Amazon’s Best Prime Day Tech Deals (So Far)

Prime Day, Amazon’s made-up summer shopping extravaganza, is back again, and this year, it’s going into overtime. Prime Day is now a 48-hour event, giving you two days to get your hands on some discounted goods.

Amazon’s self-made holiday originally began as a celebration of its 20 year anniversary, and has grown into a true shopping spectacle, comparable to Black Friday. Prices will be slashed on lots of tech, including popular consumer electronics, games, smart home gear, and other gadgets you didn’t think you needed until now. This year, Prime Day starts on July 15 at 12 a.m. PT and ends at 11:59 p.m. PT on July 16. If you’re already in possession of an Echo device, on July 13 you can ask, “Alexa, what are my deals?” and get access to select discounts early.

While Amazon may have already shown off its own sales, other companies are still waiting until the last minute to reveal their best deals. We’ll keep you posted on the most eye-catching discounts for the coolest gadgets, but here’s what you can get ready to purchase this Prime Day:

Amazon’s own line of Fire tablets is getting a hefty discount. Its least expensive Fire 7 is getting a $20 discount, making it $29.99. You can get two for $49.98, just in case you want one for each hand. On the other end of the price spectrum is the Fire HD 10, available for $99.99. Want another one just in case? You can save $120 when you buy two Fire HD 10 tablets for $179.98.

As for Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, you can save a few bucks on those and get started reading some of the most popular titles without spending a penny more. During Prime Day, buying any Kindle will net you a $5 e-book credit, as well as three free months of Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s Netflix-for-books service available on its Kindle devices.

Amazon’s cheapest Kindle will run you $59.99 on Prime Day, saving you $30 in the process. Want a quality e-reader that can survive being used in the tub? Amazon’s high-end Kindle Oasis, with its water resistance and backlit screen that adjusts based on your surroundings, will cost you $174.99. That’s an $80 savings, perfect for buying some extra books.

Want to add a voice assistant to your home? Now’s as good a time as ever, since you can get an Echo for $49.99, saving yourself $50. You can save $70 on the touchscreen Echo Show, $159.99 during the sale.

4K viewers can also save $25 and snag the Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa Voice Remote for $24.99. If you’re looking for a streaming device that’s a bit more capable, or one that’ll help solve your smart home issues, check out the Fire TV Cube at $69.99, which doubles as an Echo device and costs $50 less than it would any other day.

You can also use this opportunity to secure the homestead with Amazon’s line of home security gadgets, each one giving you at minimum a double-digit discount. Need a home security starter kit? The Ring Alarm 14-Piece Kit is $199 on Prime Day, $130 off its listed price.

For those wanting a new doorbell, you can save $80 and get a Ring Video Doorbell Pro for $169, or save $60 and buy a Ring Spotlight Cam for $139.

Just need a camera to keep an eye on the cat while you’re out? Check out BLink’s indoor cameras — you can get your own Blink Indoor Cam 2-Cam System for $79.99, saving $80.

For cord-cutters and show streamers, you can get your hands on some discounted Fire TV gear for your TV, 4K or otherwise on Prime Day. Watching on a 1080p screen? You can save $25 and get a Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote for $14.99.

Snagging a mesh network on Prime Day is a great idea to improve your home’s wireless network, and the Eero WiFi system is one of the best around. You can save up to $200 on Eero WiFi system bundles, or save $100 and snag a single Eero Router for $99 to add one more to your existing network.

New story in Technology from Time: The U.K.’s Version of the NSA Wants Access to Encrypted Chats. Here’s How it Would Work

The term “ghost protocol” might remind you of a famous blockbuster starring Tom Cruise, but here it applies to a new proposal by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the United Kingdom.

The GCHQ is the British equivalent of the United States National Security Agency, and the proposal’s function is to give law enforcement power to listen in on encrypted communications (like those on WhatsApp, for example).

It’s not the first time the British government has taken aim at encrypted communication: in 2017, then Home Secretary Amber Rudd called for end-to-end encryption to be banned, claiming “real people” don’t need it. Rudd’s comment reflected tremendous ignorance about how modern communication works.

The proposal, referred to informally as ghost protocol, is a more strategic attack on privacy, packaged in security rhetoric that hides technical, personal and societal implications. In an open letter to GCHQ, 47 signatories — including Apple, Google and WhatsApp — have urged the agency to abandon its plans.

How end-to-end encryption works

The government proposal says “you don’t even have to touch the encryption” to implement ghost protocol. End-to-end encryption works by generating a pair of public and private keys for each user. Text encrypted using the public key can only be decrypted using the private key, and vice versa.

Hence, if Bob and Alice want to have a chat, both share their public keys and keep their private keys secret. Bob encrypts messages using Alice’s public key (so only Alice can decipher them), and Alice encrypts messages using Bob’s public key.

In a group chat between Alice, Bob, and Jill, every message Alice sends is encrypted using Bob’s public key (to Bob) and Jill’s public key (to Jill). Alice is notified by the app that each message has two recipients. This means that the messaging service’s servers only see public keys and encrypted text: they cannot decipher text, even at the request of law enforcement.

How end-to-end encryption works.

Ghost in the machine

Ghost protocol gets around this problem by proposing that law enforcement can be added as an invisible participant to a conversation. Alice, in conversation with Bob, would then encrypt every message twice, using both Bob’s public key and the public key for law enforcement. Alice would be unaware of law enforcement’s ability to access her conversation.

Framing this as an action that could only be taken if legally approved and only in situations where there is sufficient evidence to justify it sounds reasonable, but ghost protocol completely disregards the many technical implications of modifying software to support a ghost user.

It would require messaging apps to change how keys are negotiated among participants, adding complexity and therefore increasing the potential for security vulnerabilities.

By requiring apps to hide participants, it would undermine authentication mechanisms, introducing new potential vulnerabilities and eroding user trust in the service.

It would also effectively create a backdoor that could be exploited by messaging apps themselves — for example, a company employee who wants to stalk a co-worker. This would create a single point of failure: should a malicious attacker hack into the messaging app system, they would then be able to inject themselves as a silent listener into any conversation.

Social implications

The personal and societal implications are even more serious. Messaging apps would need to update their software to support ghost protocol. Would this update affect all users, regardless of geographical location? Would a Canadian user be affected because a messaging app update implements U.K. law? This opens the door to any government, including dictatorships, to spy on their citizens effortlessly and covertly.

Remember the Edward Snowden leaks?

If two versions of the software existed — one for users in the U.K., one for everywhere else — how would these inter-operate? Would a Canadian visiting the U.K. be able to use the messaging app? Probably not, without an update that incorporates ghost protocol. That update that would remain on their phone after they returned home.

Law enforcement definitely needs access to information to provide security and prosecute crimes, and technology has certainly made this more challenging. But law enforcement’s intelligence-gathering capabilities cannot be supported by undermining individuals’ right to privacy, which is what ghost protocol proposes. It makes the many more vulnerable, so the U.K. can spy on a few.The Conversation

Paulo Garcia is an assistant professor at Carleton University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New story in Technology from Time: Amazon Is Building a Voice-Controlled Robot That’s Like a ‘Mobile Alexa’

Amazon is developing a higher quality version of the Echo speaker and ramping up work on its home robot.

The company plans to release the new Echo by next year, according to people familiar with the product. Prototypes of the cylindrical speaker are wider than the current Echo to squeeze in additional components including at least four tweeters, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss an internal matter. The robot, previously reported by Bloomberg, has wheels and can be controlled by Alexa voice commands, the people said.

Both devices are being developed by Amazon Lab126, a research and development arm based in Sunnyvale, California. The company’s hardware foray keeps customers wedded to its ecosystem — buying products from Amazon.com and using services like Prime Video and Prime Music.

The Echo, which went on sale in 2015, will grab 63% of the U.S. market this year, according to EMarketer. But it has lost some ground to the Sonos One, Apple Inc. HomePod and Google Home Max — all of which claim to deliver superior audio. Google now has 31% of the market, while the rest have a combined 12%. The HomePod isn’t selling as well as Apple expected, and the company recently dropped the price.

Amazon has previously attempted to improve the Echo’s sound with tweaks and offered a standalone subwoofer and device that links the speakers to a stereo. Amazon is also planning a high-fidelity version of its music service, according to Music Business Worldwide, that should mesh better with the new Echo. Amazon could still decide not to proceed with the new high-end Echo.

The Seattle-based company typically rolls out a slew of devices in the fall, but sometimes scatters one-off product launches throughout the year. Amazon plans to start selling voice-controlled earbuds to rival Apple’s AirPods as early as this year, Bloomberg reported in April. The Echo range will also receive minor updates this fall, people familiar with the plans said.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment.

Amazon originally intended to reveal the robot, known internally as “Vesta,” as early as this year, but the machine isn’t ready to be mass-produced, the people said. While Amazon could choose never to release the robot, in recent months it has pulled engineers from other projects to work on it — a signal the company plans to sell Vesta at some point.

It’s unclear what tasks the Amazon robot might perform. People familiar with the project speculated last year that the Vesta could be a sort of mobile Alexa, accompanying customers in parts of their home where they don’t have Echo devices.

People familiar with the project describe prototypes that are about waist-high and navigate with the help of an array of computer-vision cameras. In an internal demonstration, an engineer summoned the machine with his voice.

Amazon has said nothing publicly about Vesta, but a year ago, Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos posted an Instagram photo of an Echo speaker taped to a Roomba vacuum cleaner. “What?!!!!” he wrote. “Found this in the living room when I got home. I have no idea. #LifeWithFourKids.”