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Recode Daily: Emoji are increasingly popping up in US court cases — and courts aren’t prepared to interpret them

Plus: Amazon beat Google in Q4 smart speaker shipments; Trump signs the US Space Force into existence; the spectacular failure of the world’s only hard rock theme park.

Emoji representing a woman, a police officer, balancing scales, a chicken, a gun, and praying hands. Emojipedia

Emoji are showing up in US court cases — and the courts aren’t prepared to interpret them. Emoticons started appearing in court in 2004, and they have since been found most commonly in sexual predation cases. So far, the graphic symbols have rarely been important enough to sway the direction of a case, but as they become more common, the ambiguity in how emoji are displayed and what we interpret emoji to mean could become a larger issue for courts to contend with. Exhibit A: “Bay Area prosecutors were trying to prove that a man arrested during a prostitution sting was guilty of pimping charges, and among the evidence was a series of Instagram DMs he’d allegedly sent to a woman. One read: “Teamwork make the dream work” with high heels and money bag emoji placed at the end. Prosecutors said the message implied a working relationship between the two of them. The defendant said it could mean he was trying to strike up a romantic relationship. Who was right?” [Dami Lee / The Verge]

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About 60 million households worldwide now own at least one smart speaker, and unlike the slowing smartphone market, the smart speaker sector is nowhere near the point of oversaturation. Global shipments of the voice-controlled devices grew 95 percent from 22.6 million units to 38.5 million units in Q4 2018 — more than were sold in the entire year of 2017; the year-end total for 2018 was 86.2 million units. Amazon and Google were the winners by far, predictably: Amazon saw a 91 percent quarter-over-quarter rise in Echo device shipments, shipping 13.7 million Alexa-powered devices; Google had a 123 percent uptick in Google Home shipments over the same period, shipping 11.5 million units. [Kyle Wiggers / VentureBeat]

President Trump signed a directive for the Department of Defense to draft legislation creating a Space Force as a part of the US Air Force, establishing the first new military branch in 72 years. The new branch will be overseen by an Air Force undersecretary for space, and it will be structured in a similar way as the Marine Corps, which is a component of the US Department of the Navy, but has its own Joint Chiefs of Staff representation. Meanwhile, on Earth, the Trump administration said it will cancel more than $900 million in federal grants earmarked for a high-speed rail project in California; the US Transportation Department said it was exploring legal options to recoup $2.5 billion in federal funds already granted to the project by the Federal Railroad Administration. [Michael Sheetz and Amanda Macias / CNBC]

In an interview, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei said there is “no way the US can crush” the Chinese tech company, and characterized the arrest of his daughter, Meng Wanzhou, the company’s chief financial officer, as politically motivated. The US is pursuing criminal charges against Huawei and Meng, including money laundering, bank fraud, and stealing trade secrets. Meanwhile, reporting by The Information details Huawei’s efforts to steal Apple’s intellectual property, including pressing suppliers for Apple Watch details, copying a MacBook Pro component, and debriefing new Apple hires. [Karishma Vaswani / BBC]

Uber is suing New York City over a rule that caps the number of ride-hailing drivers allowed on the streets, saying that the city government does not have enough evidence to justify such a rule and that Mayor Bill de Blasio is treating the business unfairly. City officials have said the rule’s creation will help reduce road congestion, and de Blasio’s office said Uber and other ride-hailing companies have made traffic worse. The lawsuit reflects the increasingly combative relationship between NYC and global technology companies: Two weeks ago, Lyft sued the city’s transportation commission over the implementation of minimum pay rules for drivers; last week, Amazon walked away from plans to build a sprawling new headquarters in Queens to support 25,000 employees; and Airbnb and other home-rental companies are fighting the city in court over its demand that they turn over renter data. [Eric Newcomer / Bloomberg]

Top stories from Recode

Oakland’s teachers strike is another sign of economic inequality in tech’s backyard. Teachers say they can no longer afford to live in an area that has seen an economic boom fueled by the tech industry. [Shirin Ghaffary]

Google and Facebook have become “antithetical to democracy,” says the author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. On the latest Recode Decode, Shoshana Zuboff says Silicon Valley has compromised our autonomy: “They can take hold of our behavior and shift it and modify it in ways that we don’t know.” [Kara Swisher]

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The spectacular failure of the world’s only hard rock theme park.

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