Privacy

Amazon Won't Say If It Hands Your Echo Data To the Government (zdnet.com)

Zack Whittaker reports via ZDNet of how Amazon still won't say whether or not it hands your Echo data to the government -- three years after the Echo was first released. From the report: Amazon has a transparency problem. Three years ago, the retail giant became the last major tech company to reveal how many subpoenas, search warrants, and court orders it received for customer data in a half-year period. While every other tech giant had regularly published its government request figures for years, spurred on by accusations of participation in government surveillance, Amazon had been largely forgotten. Eventually, people noticed and Amazon acquiesced. Since then, Amazon's business has expanded. By its quarterly revenue, it's no longer a retail company -- it's a cloud giant and a device maker. The company's flagship Echo, an "always listening" speaker, collects vast amounts of customer data that's openly up for grabs by the government. But Amazon's bi-annual transparency figures don't want you to know that. In fact, Amazon has been downright deceptive in how it presents the data, obfuscating the figures in its short, but contextless, twice-yearly reports. Not only does Amazon offer the barest minimum of information possible, the company has -- and continues -- to deliberately mislead its customers by actively refusing to clarify how many customers, and which customers, are affected by the data demands it receives.
Transportation

LAPD Is Not Using the Electric BMWs It Announced In 2016 (cbslocal.com) 15

mi shares a report from CBS Los Angeles: "In a 2016 well-choreographed press conference, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck got out of an electric BMW driven by Mayor Garcetti to tout the city's ambitious project [to provide electric cars for the department]," reports CBS Los Angeles. "The cost: $10.2 million, which includes charging stations." However, the cars have seen very little use. With the monthly lease payment of a little more than $418, one vehicle ends up costing taxpayers over $15 a mile to use. Some of the use they do get is improper too, alleges CBS Los Angeles, citing footage captured from several hidden cameras. "We followed someone after leaving the downtown police garage; they went to the drive-through at Yoshinoya," reports CBS. "On another day, someone drove from downtown LA to Loyola Marymount University in West LA, picked up someone who appeared to be a student, and went to lunch." The deputy chief is looking into what CBS found and says the cars are to be used for business only.
Businesses

Apple Gives Employees $2,500 Bonuses After New Tax Law (bloomberg.com) 69

Apple told employees that it's issuing a bonus of $2,500 of restricted stock units, following the introduction of the new U.S. tax law. "The iPhone maker will begin issuing grants to most employees worldwide in the coming months," reports Bloomberg. Apple also announced today that it would bring back most of its cash from overseas and spend $30 billion in the U.S. over the next five years. From the report: Apple confirmed the bonuses in response to a Bloomberg inquiry Wednesday. The Cupertino, California-based company joins a growing list of American businesses that have celebrated the introduction of corporate-friendly tax law with one-time bonuses for staff. AT&T, Comcast, JetBlue, and Wal-Mart also said they were giving bonuses.
Crime

Facebook Is a 'Living, Breathing Crime Scene,' Says Former Tech Insider (nbcnews.com) 48

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: With more than 2 billion users, Facebook's reach now rivals that of Christianity and exceeds that of Islam. However, the network's laser focus on profits and user growth has come at the expense of its users, according to one former Facebook manager who is now speaking out against the social platform. "One of the things that I saw consistently as part of my job was the company just continuously prioritized user growth and making money over protecting users," the ex-manager, Sandy Parakilas, who worked at Facebook for 16 months, starting in 2011, told NBC News. During his tenure at Facebook, Parakilas led third-party advertising, privacy and policy compliance on Facebook's app platform. "Facebook is a living, breathing crime scene for what happened in the 2016 election -- and only they have full access to what happened," said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google. His work centers on how technology can ethically steer the thoughts and actions of the masses on social media and he's been called "the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience" by The Atlantic magazine.

In response to the comments, Facebook issued a statement saying it is a "vastly different company" from when it was founded. "We are taking many steps to protect and improve people's experience on the platform," the statement said. "In the past year, we've worked to destroy the business model for false news and reduce its spread, stop bad actors from meddling in elections, and bring a new level of transparency to advertising. Last week, we started prioritizing meaningful posts from friends and family in News Feed to help bring people closer together. We have more work to do and we're heads down on getting it done."

Google

Google Search Will Start Ranking Faster Mobile Pages Higher In July (venturebeat.com) 57

An anonymous reader writes: Google today announced a new project to improve its mobile search results: Factoring page speed into its search ranking. As the company notes, page speed "has been used in ranking for some time" but that was largely for desktop searches. Starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches on Google as well. In November 2014, Google started labeling sites as "mobile-friendly" to denote pages optimized for phones. The company then spend the next few years experimenting with using the label as a ranking factor, ultimately pushing those changes in April 2015 and increasing the effect in May 2016. The label was removed in August 2016 as the company noted that most pages had become "mobile-friendly." Google now plans to wield that power again to make mobile pages load faster.
Youtube

YouTube Toughens Advert Payment Rules (bbc.com) 95

YouTube is introducing tougher requirements for video publishers who want to make money from its platform. From a report: In addition, it has said staff will manually review all clips before they are added to a premium service that pairs big brand advertisers with popular content. The moves follow a series of advertiser boycotts and a controversial vlog that featured an apparent suicide victim. One expert said that the Google-owned service had been slow to react. "Google presents the impression of acting reactively rather than proactively," said Mark Mulligan, from the consultancy Midia Research.

[...] The first part of the new strategy involves a stricter requirement that publishers must fulfil before they can make money from their uploads. Clips will no longer have adverts attached unless the publisher meets two criteria -- that they have: at least 1,000 subscribers; and more than 4,000 hours of their content viewed by others within the past 12 months.

Businesses

Apple Says It Will 'Contribute' $350 Billion in the US Economy Over the Next 5 Years (cnbc.com) 124

Apple said on Wednesday it will invest $350 billion in the U.S. economy over the next five years, touting the creation of 20,000 new jobs and a new campus thanks, in part, to the prospect of tax reform. From a report: The company said it expects tax repatriation payments of about $38 billion, indicating that it will bring a portion of its $250 billion overseas cash back to the U.S. As of November, the company had $268.9 billion in cash, both domestically and overseas. The job creation will focus on direct employment, but also suppliers and its app business, which it had already planned to grow substantially. "We have a deep sense of responsibility to give back to our country and the people who help make our success possible," chief executive Tim Cook said in a statement.
Businesses

Turning Soybeans Into Diesel Fuel Is Costing Us Billions (npr.org) 206

This year, trucks and other heavy-duty motors in America will burn some 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel that was made from soybean oil. They're doing it, though, not because it's cheaper or better, but because they're required to, by law. From a report: The law is the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. For some, especially Midwestern farmers, it's the key to creating clean energy from American soil and sun. For others -- like many economists -- it's a wasteful misuse of resources. And the most wasteful part of the RFS, according to some, is biodiesel. It's different from ethanol, a fuel that's made from corn and mixed into gasoline, also as required by the RFS. In fact, gasoline companies probably would use ethanol even if there were no law requiring it, because ethanol is a useful fuel additive -- at least up to a point. That's not true of biodiesel. "This is an easy one, economically. Biodiesel is very expensive, relative to petroleum diesel," says Scott Irwin, an economist at the University of Illinois, who follows biofuel markets closely. He calculates that the extra cost for biodiesel comes to about $1.80 per gallon right now, meaning that the biofuel law is costing Americans about $5.4 billion a year.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Watchers Running Out of Explanations Blame Slump on Moon (bloomberg.com) 133

If regulatory concerns aren't enough to explain Bitcoin's 50 percent slump from its record high reached last month, how about blaming it on the moon? An anonymous reader writes: The Lunar New Year, which marks the first day of the year in the Chinese calendar, is being cited by some as contributing to Bitcoin's slump as Asian traders cash out their cryptocurrencies to travel and buy gifts for the holiday that starts Feb. 16 this year. The festivity is celebrated not just in China, but in other Asian countries including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea and Thailand. "The January drop is a recurring theme in cryptocurrencies as people celebrating the Chinese New Year, aka Lunar New Year, exchange their crypto for fiat currency," said Alexander Wallin, chief executive officer of trading social network SprinkleBit in New York. "The timing is about four to six weeks before the lunar year, when most people make their travel arrangements and start buying presents."
Businesses

'No One Wants Your Used Clothes Anymore' (bloomberg.com) 259

An anonymous reader shares a report: For decades, the donation bin has offered consumers in rich countries a guilt-free way to unload their old clothing. In a virtuous and profitable cycle, a global network of traders would collect these garments, grade them, and transport them around the world to be recycled, worn again, or turned into rags and stuffing. Now that cycle is breaking down. Fashion trends are accelerating, new clothes are becoming as cheap as used ones, and poor countries are turning their backs on the secondhand trade. Without significant changes in the way that clothes are made and marketed, this could add up to an environmental disaster in the making. [...] The tide of secondhand clothes keeps growing even as the markets to reuse them are disappearing. From an environmental standpoint, that's a big problem. Already, the textile industry accounts for more greenhouse-gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined; as recycling markets break down, its contribution could soar. The good news is that nobody has a bigger incentive to address this problem than the industry itself.
Businesses

Within Next Five Years Your Pizzas Will Probably Be Delivered by Autonomous Cars, Domino's Pizza CEO Says (thestreet.com) 192

In an interview with The Street, Domino's Pizza outgoing CEO Patrick Doyle said in three to five years at the earliest he expects driverless cars and voice orders to shift the way the world orders pizza. From the report: "We have been investing in natural voice for ordering for a few years. We rolled that out in our own apps before Amazon launched Alexa and Alphabet launched Google Home...[and] we are making investments...to understand how consumers will want to interact with autonomous vehicles and pizza delivery," Doyle said.
China

Philippine Lawmakers Worry China Telecom May Be a 'Trojan horse' (reuters.com) 25

An anonymous reader shares a report: Opposition members of the Philippine Congress raised concern on Wednesday that China Telecom Corp, which may enter the Philippine industry, could be a "Trojan horse" aimed at giving China access to state secrets. The Southeast Asian country aims to name a third telecom operator within the first quarter that will break the duopoly of PLDT and Globe Telecom State-run China Telecom has been named as a possible investor in that third entity. President Rodrigo Duterte, who has warned both PLDT and Globe to shape up or face competition, has welcomed Chinese entities specifically to become the third telecoms operator. Beijing has selected China Telecom to invest in the Philippines, according to Philippine officials, but it would need to partner with a local company as it cannot operate alone under the law. China Telecom's presence in the Philippines, however, does not sit well with some lawmakers, given China's telecommunications expertise and sophisticated technology.
Transportation

Lyft Says Nearly 250K of Its Passengers Ditched a Personal Car In 2017 (techcrunch.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Lyft has a new report out detailing its "economic impact" for 2017, and the document includes a lot of stats on its performance throughout the year. The ride-hailing provider claims 375.5 million rides for the year, which is 130 percent growth measured year-over-year. It served 23 million different passengers, itself a 92 percent YoY increase, and had 1.4 million drivers on the platform -- 100 percent growth vs. its total for 2016. Lyft is making some especially strong claims regarding its impact on car ownership trends: In 2017 alone, it said that almost a quarter of a million passengers on its platform dropped owning a personal vehicle, due to the availability of ridesharing specifically. Fifty percent of its users also report driving their own car less because of Lyft's service, and a quarter of those on the platform say they don't feel personal vehicle ownership is that important anymore. The ride-hailing company also found attitudes generally favorable towards self-driving vehicles and their use: 83 percent of Lyft passengers surveyed by the company said they'd be open to hailing and riding in a self-driving vehicle once they're available.
Security

Researchers Uncover Android Malware With Never-Before-Seen Spying Capabilities (arstechnica.com) 101

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: According to a report published Tuesday by antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab, "Skygofree" is most likely an offensive security product sold by an Italy-based IT company that markets various surveillance wares. With 48 different commands in its latest version, the malware has undergone continuous development since its creation in late 2014. It relies on five separate exploits to gain privileged root access that allows it to bypass key Android security measures. Skygofree is capable of taking pictures, capturing video, and seizing call records, text messages, gelocation data, calendar events, and business-related information stored in device memory. Skygofree also includes the ability to automatically record conversations and noise when an infected device enters a location specified by the person operating the malware. Another never-before-seen feature is the ability to steal WhatsApp messages by abusing the Android Accessibility Service that's designed to help users who have disabilities or who may temporarily be unable to fully interact with a device. A third new feature: the ability to connect infected devices to Wi-Fi networks controlled by attackers. Skygofree also includes other advanced features, including a reverse shell that gives malware operators better remote control of infected devices. The malware also comes with a variety of Windows components that provide among other things a reverse shell, a keylogger, and a mechanism for recording Skype conversations.
Businesses

The Human Cost of the Apple Supply Chain Machine (bloomberg.com) 164

Apple is still struggling to improve working conditions at its supply chain factories. China Labor Watch and Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that Catcher, a key supplier for iPhone and MacBook casings, makes workers endure harsh safety conditions and unfair work terms in a factory in Suqian. According to observers and discussions with workers, the machines are not only loud, but spray fluid and metallic particles that frequently hit workers' faces only some of which have access to safety goggles and gloves. From the report: Hundreds throng a workshop where the main door only opens about 12 inches. Off duty, they return to debris-strewn dorms bereft of showers or hot water. Many go without washing for days at a time, workers told Bloomberg. "My hands turned bloodless white after a day of work," said one of the workers, who makes a little over 4,000 yuan a month (just over $2 an hour) in her first job outside her home province of Henan. She turned to Catcher because her husband's home-decorating business was struggling. "I only tell good things to my family and keep the sufferings like this for myself." "I asked for the earplugs many times but they didn't have any. The loud noise of 'zah-zah' made my head ache and dizzy," one of those employees told Bloomberg.
Patents

Bank of America Tops IBM, Payments Firms With Most Blockchain Patents (bloomberg.com) 43

Bank of America may not be willing to help customers invest in Bitcoin, but that doesn't mean it isn't plowing into the technology underlying the cryptocurrency. From a report: The Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender has applied for or received at least 43 patents for blockchain, the ledger technology used for verifying and recording transactions that's at the heart of virtual currencies. It is the largest number among major banks and technology companies, according to a study by EnvisionIP, a New York-based law firm that specializes in analyses of intellectual property. "Based on what's publicly out there, the technology sector hasn't embraced blockchain as much as the financial-services industry," Maulin Shah, managing attorney for EnvisionIP, said in an interview. International Business Machines Corp., which has targeted blockchain and artificial intelligence for future growth, tied with Mastercard Inc. for second on the list, with 27 each.
AT&T

US Lawmakers Urge AT&T To Cut Commercial Ties With Huawei and Oppose China Mobile Citing National Security Concerns (reuters.com) 60

U.S. lawmakers are urging AT&T, the No. 2 wireless carrier, to cut commercial ties to Chinese phone maker Huawei Technologies and oppose plans by telecom operator China Mobile to enter the U.S. market because of national security concerns, two congressional aides told Reuters. From the report: The warning comes after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump took a harder line on policies initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama on issues ranging from Beijing's role in restraining North Korea to Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. strategic industries. Earlier this month, AT&T was forced to scrap a plan to offer its customers Huawei handsets after some members of Congress lobbied against the idea with federal regulators, sources told Reuters. The U.S. government has also blocked a string of Chinese acquisitions over national security concerns, including Ant Financial's proposed purchase of U.S. money transfer company MoneyGram International.
Businesses

Contraceptive App Natural Cycles Blamed For String of Unwanted Pregnancies (standard.co.uk) 396

An anonymous reader shares a report: A contraceptive mobile phone app used by tens of thousands of British women has come under fire after reportedly sparking a string of unwanted pregnancies. Swedish birth control app Natural Cycles, which costs $55, tracks body temperature to accurately predict when in the month a woman is more likely to fall pregnant. The period monitor was hailed as a non-mood altering alternative to the pill and, if used perfectly, was found to be 99 per cent effective by researchers. But the app has come under fire after the Sodersjukhuset hospital in Stockholm lodged a complaint with the Swedish Medical Products Agency, the country's government body responsible for regulation of medical devices. It claimed staff at the hospital had recorded 37 women who had fallen pregnant in the last quarter of 2017 after using the app. One midwife said the hospital had a duty to report all side effects.
Businesses

Now Hiring For a Fascinating New Kind of Job That Only a Human Can Do: Babysit a Robot (wired.com) 71

From a report: Book a night at LAX's Residence Inn and you may be fortunate enough to meet an employee named Wally. His gig is relatively pedestrian -- bring you room service, navigate around the hotel's clientele in the lobby and halls -- but Wally's life is far more difficult than it seems. If you put a tray out in front of your door, for instance, he can't get to you. If a cart is blocking the hall, he can't push it out of the way. But fortunately for Wally, whenever he gets into a spot of trouble, he can call out for help. See, Wally is a robot -- specifically, a Relay robot from a company called Savioke. And when the machine finds itself in a particularly tricky situation, it relies on human agents in a call center way across the country in Pennsylvania to bail it out. [...]

The first companies to unleash robots into service sectors have been quietly opening call centers stocked with humans who monitor the machines and help them get out of jams. "It's something that's just starting to emerge, and it's not just robots," says David Poole, CEO and co-founder of Symphony Ventures, which consults companies on automation. "I think there is going to be a huge industry, probably mostly offshore, in the monitoring of devices in general, whether they're health devices that individuals wear or monitoring pacemakers or whatever it might be."

Portables (Apple)

10 Years of the MacBook Air (theverge.com) 153

Ten years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air. "Apple's Macworld 2008 was a special one, taking place just days after the annual Consumer Electronics Show had ended and Bill Gates bid farewell to Microsoft," The Verge recalls. "Jobs introduced the MacBook Air by removing it from a tiny paper office envelope, and the crowd was audibly shocked at just how small and thin it was..." From the report: At the time, rivals had thin and light laptops on the market, but they were all around an inch thick, weighed 3 pounds, and had 8- or 11-inch displays. Most didn't even have full-size keyboards, but Apple managed to create a MacBook Air with a wedge shape so that the thickest part was still thinner than the thinnest part of the Sony TZ Series -- one of the thinnest laptops back in 2008. It was a remarkable feat of engineering, and it signaled a new era for laptops. Apple ditched the CD drive and a range of ports on the thin MacBook Air, and the company introduced a multi-touch trackpad and SSD storage. There was a single USB 2.0 port, alongside a micro-DVI port and a headphone jack. It was minimal, but the price was not. Apple's base MacBook Air cost $1,799 at the time, an expensive laptop even by today's standards.

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