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10
Apr

Car makers ask the US to slow down on rules for self-driving tech


You might think that car brands would want governments to approve self-driving cars quickly so that sales can start as soon as possible, but it turns out that they’re quite cautious. The Global Automakers industry group (which includes numerous heavyweights) used a public hearing on April 8th to ask US officials to slow down while crafting regulations for autonomous driving tech. Supposedly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is moving too quickly by pushing for finished guidelines by July. It’s tying itself to “arbitary, self-imposed deadlines” instead of allowing “robust and thoughtful” analysis, the industry says.

Instead, the organization wants the US to take a gradual, nuanced approach where it tackles short- and long-term issues as they come up. The rules should account for different levels of automation, the group notes — assistant features like Tesla’s Autopilot (where you still need to pay attention) aren’t the same as fully hands-off experiences. There are also concerns about having enough time to ensure that privacy and safety get their due. All told, automakers are hoping to avoid guidelines that are either too onerous or lead to a rash of accidents that make manufacturers look bad.

How closely the NHTSA listens is another matter. It contends that there should be some kind of rulemaking in the near future, since semi-autonomous vehicles (like Tesla’s) are already on the road. It’s harder to impose changes on cars that already exist, after all. While the administration is likely to take some of Global Automakers’ advice into account, it may decide that an imperfect but timely rulebook is better than nothing.

Via: Reuters

Source: Global Automakers

10
Apr

Senators work on what might be the most anti-encryption bill yet


The White House might have avoided serious backlash by refusing to back an encryption bill being worked on by the offices of Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein. Kevin Bankston, director of New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, told Wired that in his 20 years working in tech policy, “this is easily the most ludicrous, dangerous, technically illiterate proposal” he’s ever seen. Wired even notes that privacy experts thinks it’s so bad, it’s good, because it’s very unlikely that the bill will become law as it is.

Like its name implies, the “Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016” would require people and companies to comply with judicial orders demanding access to data. According to a draft obtained and published by The Hill, an entity that receives a court order must provide data in an “intelligible format” if the info has been made “unintelligible (translation: encrypted) by a feature, product or service.”

If the entity can’t readily give the government a copy of unencrypted data, then it must provide “appropriate technical assistance” to get it. In other words, if this bill were already law, Cupertino would be forced to unlock the devices feds want it to crack open for several cases, including a drug-related one in Brooklyn.

The bill also wants “license distributors” to ensure their products provide access to the government. As such, stores such as iTunes and Google Play would have to make sure the apps they sell have little to offer in terms of security features. WhatsApp with its new end-to-end encryption, for instance, wouldn’t pass the screening process.

The senators’ joint statement says they can’t discuss the draft’s contents, since they’re still finalizing it. “However,” it says, “the underlying goal is simple: when there’s a court order to render technical assistance to law enforcement or provide decrypted information, that court order is carried out. No individual or company is above the law.”

Despite privacy advocates’ belief that the bill won’t pass, they’re still worried about its possible effects. In the case of the American Civil Liberties Union, it thinks the bill is a “clear threat to everyone’s privacy and security” and that the senators “should abandon their efforts” altogether.

Source: Wired, The Hill

10
Apr

Google Fiber drops a free service in its original city


Google Fiber’s biggest hook has always been its $70 gigabit internet access, but there has usually been a far more frugal option: you could get free 5Mbps service if you were willing to pay a construction fee. However, that choice appears to be going away in at least one city. Google has quietly dropped that free tier in Kansas City, its first Fiber area, and has replaced it with a 100Mbps option that costs $50 per month. Anyone using the free tier has until May 19th to say they want to keep it. The company hasn’t explained the move (we’ve asked Google for comment), but customers in Austin and Provo still have that choice; Atlanta never had it to start with. Also, this doesn’t change Google’s plan to offer free service in low-income areas.

It’s odd for Google to yank an offering like this, but Recode suggests that this could reflect a broader change in strategy. Simply put, Google has fiercer competition from incumbent carriers — it may have to offer a fast-but-affordable selection to get those customers for whom the gigabit option is either too costly or sheer overkill. On top of that, dropping the installation cost (it’s waived for everyone if you commit to one year) increases the chances that Google Fiber will reach apartments, where any kind of initial fee might be too much. Whatever the motivations, Google is clearly beyond the days when Fiber was merely an experiment in very high-speed internet access — it has to be a money-maker.

Via: Recode

Source: Google Fiber

10
Apr

Kanye West album will top charts after Tidal exclusive ends


If you guessed that Kanye West’s short-lived decision to make The Life of Pablo a Tidal exclusive would hurt the album’s chances… you guessed correctly. Music industry forecasters now expect Kanye’s latest to top the Billboard charts for April 23rd, which will include the first results from other streaming music services as well as purchases from both Tidal as well as the star’s own website. The data suggests that Tidal just isn’t big enough to support a major album at this point, even if it did lead to many people signing up (however temporarily) when they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Provided the album meets expectations, it’ll mark an important milestone. It should be the first Billboard chart-topper to get the majority of its album sale equivalents from streaming, not downloads or physical copies — yes, only a fraction of listeners likely had permanent copies. The achievement is somewhat arbitrary (you still can’t buy the album at places like iTunes), but it shows that on-demand listening is so popular that you don’t need downloads to create a hit.

Also, Kanye might have sworn off CDs a little prematurely. Billboard’s tipsters understand that a physical release will “eventually” show up, most likely as a special edition that gives diehard fans extra content that won’t be available online. If so, Pablo is less of a radical shift in music and more of a brief experiment with distribution. You might not see future albums released in physical form, but West and crew aren’t ready to make that leap just yet.

Source: Kanye West (Twitter), Billboard

10
Apr

Are the Galaxy S7’s in-box headphones worth your time?


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Most headphones that come with phones aren’t worth much, but these are actually alright.

Aside from HTC’s phones that launched during the now-defunct partnership with Beats, even high-end phones have historically come with a pretty crappy pair of headphones in the box. Many mid-range phones — and even more pricey devices like the Nexus 6P — eschew headphones altogether, understanding that folks aren’t likely to use them and it can be an area of cost savings.

But what about your $700 Galaxy S7? Sure it comes with a pair of headphones nestled in the box, and nobody would blame you for being skeptical that they’re worth a damn. Recently I set down my many pairs of nicer headphones to take the Galaxy S7’s included earbuds for a spin — here’s what I found.

Design and comfort

Rather than go with a super-basic earbud design, Samsung has opted for a far more ergonomic styling with a kidney-shaped earbud that’s made to nestle deeper and point sound directly into your ear. This immediately improves comfort compared to the basic designs that rest further out on your ear, and also helps a little with noise cancelation — though these headphones don’t particularly excel in that respect.

There are two different sizes of silicone covers for the earbuds, and the smaller pair worked surprisingly well for my larger ears. The relatively hard silicone added to the comfort of these earbuds, putting them a large step above other cheap (and not so cheap) headphones that are just hard plastic.

The plastic that makes up the housing itself is light, flimsy and kind of slick feeling, but what can you expect for “free” headphones, I suppose. I don’t expect these to be able to handle abuse for an extended period. The entire cable doesn’t feel particularly robust either, and has a somewhat-rubbery coating that’s bound to get tangled easily as its sheen wears off.

There’s a really good in-line remote on the cable leading to the right earbud, with play/pause button and a volume rocker. Samsung has made a proper design decision here to separate that play/pause button from the volume rocker, rather than putting it in the middle where it’s far too easy to hit when all you want to do is adjust the volume. The mic found on the remote opposite the buttons is there for calls … but it’s not anywhere near the quality you’d get just from using the mic on the Galaxy S7.

Audio quality

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Here’s where we get to the real meat and potatoes — the audio quality. Sure the headphones aren’t made to last forever, but you can hope that whatever money was saved in the cheap plastic was instead spent on the components that make these earbuds worth putting in your ears.

Coming from the base line of basically zero expectations when it came to audio quality on these headphones, I was pleasantly surprised after listening to them for over a week.

They’re more than good enough for podcasts and other spoken word audio, but also usable for streaming audio and even serviceable for local audio playback — across the board, far higher quality than I expected. Music in particular can push past what these little earbuds are capable of, especially in bass response, but even at high volumes I never thought they were particularly tinny or hollow — they just couldn’t produce bass like better earbuds can.

Bottom line

If you already have a pair of in-ear headphones that you like, and they set you back more than about $30, you aren’t going to be too impressed by what comes in the box of the Galaxy S7. By spending additional money on headphones prior to this, you’ve already established that you’re willing to pay for a bit more quality — both in the design and audio.

But if you just lost your previous pair of headphones, or have done so before and bought the best-looking $5 pair you could find on Amazon you to get you through some time while you shop for something nicer, you should give the headphones in the Galaxy S7’s box a chance. They’re extremely comfortable, have good in-line controls and sound pretty good.

I can guarantee you they feel and sound better than that pair of cheapo earbuds you bought to replace your old pair, and while they probably aren’t built to last you as long as you’ll have your Galaxy S7 they’re a good pair of headphones to have around, even after you’ve decided its time for something nicer for everyday use.

Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge

  • Galaxy S7 review
  • Galaxy S7 edge review
  • Here are all four Galaxy S7 colors
  • Details on the Galaxy S7’s camera
  • Learn about the Galaxy S7’s SD card slot
  • Join our Galaxy S7 forums

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10
Apr

Mini review video: Our verdict on the iPhone SE in about a minute


No, it’s not the most exciting iPhone release, but the new SE still has a clear purpose: At $399, it’s Apple’s most affordable handset yet. Meanwhile, its 4-inch screen is likely to appeal to nostalgics who miss smaller iPhones. Indeed, the SE is nigh-indistinguishable from the three-year-old 5s, save for a Rose Gold color option and some minor differences in the finish. At the same time, though it looks like a phone from 2013, its internals are mostly on par with the 6s, which only came out last fall. The only things you’ll be giving up are the 6s’ superior front-facing camera and faster Touch ID sensor. Then again, you do get longer battery life in exchange, so there’s that to consider. All told, then, the SE is a great deal for the money, and deserves its strong score of 89.

10
Apr

Newspaper giants threaten Brave over its ad-swapping browser


You remember how Brave’s web browser pays you to see replacement ads (overriding a site’s usual ads) when you don’t pay to block promos outright? Yeah, publishers aren’t very happy about that. A coalition of 17 news giants, including the New York Times and Dow Jones, has sent Brave a letter claiming that its ad-swapping business model is illegal. Allegedly, the approach is tantamount to copyright infringement. It’s “indistinguishable” from stealing articles and posting them on another site, according to the publishers. The group also doesn’t buy the argument that Bitcoin payments and revenue sharing will make up for the lack of native ads — those methods “cannot begin to compensate” for the lost income.

Not surprisingly, Brave isn’t having any of it. CEO Brendan Eich says the browser isn’t replacing publishers’ own ads, including any first-party ads that aren’t using third-party tracking. It’s trying to create a better ad network that actually pays more than third-party options, he argues. Eich goes so far as to suggest that the publishers are being disingenuous (especially when sidestepping their own ad privacy concerns), and are really attacking any browser with an ad blocker add-on or ad-free reading mode.

Brave says it’s open to talking with the media group to argue its case, although it’s hard to see those companies being very receptive when they not-so-subtly hint at possible legal action. Not that Brave is slowing down in the meantime. It just released a developer version of its browser with support for Chrome extensions, 1Password logins and blocks against everything from phishing scams to privacy-violating browser fingerprinting measures. In short, it’s determined to fight privacy intrusions of all kinds, whether or not the perpetrators are in a position to object.

Source: Business Insider, Brave (1), (2)

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