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US authorities have seized the dark web marketplace AlphaBay

Last week, we reported that an international law enforcement operation had shut down AlphaBay, the dark web’s go-to marketplace after the fall of Silk Road. Today, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it has seized AlphaBay and has brought civil charges against operator Alexandre Cazes (who is now deceased) and his wife, with the intention of taking their assets as well.

Cazes, a Canadian citizen, was arrested in Thailand on July 5, but he committed suicide while in custody a week later. While the United States is working with international authorities to freeze the assets of AlphaBay, the Justice Department is also specifically interested in Cazes’ and his wife’s personal assets amassed through illegal AlphaBay activities. These including luxury cars, homes and a Thai hotel. Authorities have already seized Cazes’ vast stores of cryptocurrency.

AlphaBay earned millions of dollars per week selling drugs, weapons, tools to help commit internet fraud and more. According to the Justice Department’s press release, Silk Road (which was shut down in 2013) had around 14,000 goods and services listed when it was seized. Comparatively, AlphaBay had “over 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals on AlphaBay, and over 100,000 listings for stolen and fraudulent identification documents and access devices, counterfeit goods, malware and other computer hacking tools, firearms and fraudulent services.”

Source: U.S. Department of Justice


Luis Fonsi’s ‘Despacito’ is the most-streamed song of all time

Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” has been dethroned as the most-streamed song of all time — and ironically, he played a hand in getting a new song to the top of the heap. “Despacito,” performed by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, has hit more than 4.6 billion streams across all platforms since it was released in January, reports Billboard. However, there’s a caveat worth pointing out here. This takes into account stream of both the original song as well as a remix that features — you guessed it — Justin Bieber.

Streams of Bieber’s own “Sorry” also include the tune’s various remixes, so at least the songs are on a level playing field. Universal Music Group says “Sorry” has racked up 4.38 billion streams thus far. But “Sorry” has been out for nearly two years now, making the rise of “Despacito” all the more impressive.

As for where “Despacito” is being streamed, 92 percent of all plays are coming from Spotify and YouTube, notes NPR. More than 2.6 billion streams came from YouTube, while the original and remixed versions have been played a combined 1.1 billion times on Spotify. There’s also an audio-only YouTube version that has about 425 million streams.

Despite this swell of interest, “Despacito” isn’t yet the top-played song on Spotify — or YouTube, for that matter. Drake’s “One Dance” is the king of Spotify with nearly 1.3 billion streams, and Wiz Khalifa just recently had his video for “See You Again” surpass “Gangnam Style” as the single most popular clip on YouTube with about 2.9 billion plays. If Khalifa wants to go for the all-time streams record now held by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, he might want to put out a remix — and it should probably feature Justin Bieber.

Source: Billboard, NPR


Lucid Motors is struggling to produce its luxury EV

While EVs might be making headlines left and right, producing them is not as easy — or as much of a slam dunk — as it might seem. Take the case of Lucid Motors, a struggling electric car startup. It faces a stark choice for its future: Build an expensive assembly plant for its $60,000 EV, the Lucid Air, or sell to one of many interested buyers.

The electric car maker has had a turbulent history. It started out as Atieva in 2007, founded by a former Tesla VP. Atieva received investment from two Chinese companies, including LeEco, to develop a vehicle. However, LeEco owner Jia Yueting also formed its own rival EV company, Faraday Future, which has had a series of high-profile failures. Earlier this month, it abandoned a proposal for a $1 billion factory in Nevada.

Lucid’s initial plan was to build a factory in Casa Grande, Arizona, but the company has had trouble getting its financing in place. A loan from the U.S. Department of Energy aimed at helping build EV car plants could help, but the company must have financing in place first, as the loan only reimburses expenses.

The company initially approached Ford during its fundraising round, which began earlier this year. But they were surprised to discover that the American car company was actually interested in acquiring Lucid outright. Additionally, Recode has learned that two additional companies are interested in buying Lucid.

Which will Lucid choose? It’s hard to say. An automotive industry consultant named Joe Paluska told Recode that it’s likely Lucid will sell, whether to Ford or another interested buyer. Either way, it’s clear that building electric cars is not as easy a proposition as we’d like it to be.

Source: Recode


Elon Musk says he has approval to build NYC-to-DC hyperloop

Elon Musk’s latest venture, The Boring Company, has certainly been a source of amusement. Now, the billionaire visionary has tweeted that he’s received verbal government approval to build an New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore-DC Hyperloop, which will get you from New York to Washington, DC, in 29 minutes. It currently takes approximately two and a half hours to travel between the two cities on Amtrak’s Acela Express.

Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 20, 2017

The company is currently working on tunnels aimed at relieving congestion in LA. Musk tweeted that the New York-DC Hyperloop would be constructed in parallel (with city center to city center service, including up to a dozen entry/exit points per city), followed by a Los Angeles-San Francisco loop. He also envisions a Texas (Dallas-Houston-San Antonio-Austin) Hyperloop as a possibility. That’s some pretty far-off planning.

For sure. First set of tunnels are to alleviate greater LA urban congestion. Will start NY-DC in parallel. Then prob LA-SF and a TX loop.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 20, 2017

We’re not sure who is going to work with Musk and The Boring Company on these projects (we’ve asked, but Musk hasn’t responded). Chances are, though, that it will be Hyperloop One. The company recently completed a successful test of its mag-lev transport system, but even more importantly, it’s staffed by former SpaceX workers and Musk is friends with its co-founder. We’re skeptical that this project will ever happen, but you can’t say that Musk doesn’t have interesting ideas.

Source: Elon Musk


YouTube will redirect you away from extremist videos

Last month, Google steps it would take to help stamp out extremism and terrorism-related content online. Today, the company is announcing a new initiative on YouTube to help guide people away from terrorism propaganda videos and steer them towards content that debunks extremist messaging and mythology. It’s appropriately called the Redirect Method, because it essentially redirects users searching for specific keywords on YouTube to playlists featuring videos that counter extremist content.

Google’s Jigsaw team has been working with Moonshot CVE, a company that works with clients to counter “violent extremism,” to develop the Redirect Method. Moonshot CVE was able to do extensive research into understanding how extremist groups use the internet and technology more broadly to spread their messaging before figuring out what tools would make sense to use on YouTube.

Google called this an “early” release of the Redirect Method and said it would continue to add more features going forward. Specifically, it wants YouTube to understand more search terms in languages besides English and use machine learning to automatically and dynamically update the keywords in its list.

The company also plans to work with “expert” non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to develop more videos to counter extremist messaging that’s aimed at people who are at different stages of the radicalization process. It sounds like people who’ve gone deeper into extremist research would get different content than those who’ve just started exploring that world. Lastly, Google will continue working with Moonshot CVE to expand the Redirect Method in Europe (the company hasn’t said where exactly it works currently).

As for how Google plans to measure success, it simply says it’ll look at how much engagement the content gets from those being redirected to it. And this isn’t the only way Google is fighting extremist messaging on YouTube. As part of last month’s announcements, it said that it was increasing the technology it uses to identify extremist and terrorism-related videos as well as increasing the number of human experts in YouTube’s “trusted flagger” program. This may not be enough to stop terrorists from using YouTube as a recruitment platform, but it’s clear Google is taking the problem seriously.

Source: YouTube


Sears will sell appliances on Amazon as its retail stores dwindle

Sears announced today that its Kenmore branded products will now be sold on Amazon, meaning it’s now joining forces with the company that contributed to its downfall. It’s no secret that Sears has been struggling — the company has lost around $10 billion in the last few years and has closed over 200 Sears and Kmart stores this fiscal year. In 2016, Sears said it would explore other outlets for its brands, including Kenmore, and today’s announcement appears to be a result of that venture.

Along with the move to Amazon, Sears also announced that its smart home appliances are now Alexa integrated. “We’re excited that Kenmore has added Alexa functionality to these products and we think customers will love the convenience of cooling their home, starting their laundry, and more, using only their voice,” said Director of Alexa Smart Home Charlie Kindel in a statement.

Sears plans to expand Amazon distribution to the complete line of its Kenmore products and will continue to provide delivery and installation services to its customers. “The launch of Kenmore products on will significantly expand the distribution and availability of the Kenmore brand in the U.S. At the same time, Sears Home Services and our Innovel Solutions unit will benefit from the relationship as more customers experience their quality services for Kenmore products purchased on,” said Sears Holdings CEO Edward Lampert. Time will tell whether this partnership will save Sears or just be a temporary fix.

Source: Sears


Apple wants you to gussy up your Clips videos with Disney art

Apple’s Clips is a neat experiment in video creation, and it seems pretty popular, too — the company says “millions” of people use it each month. For Apple’s sake, here’s hoping a lot of them are Disney fans. The company just released a new Clips update full of Disney animations and overlays, all to gussy up videos made by those devoted to the House of Mouse.

After all, what short social video wouldn’t benefit from having Minnie Mouse dancing in a corner, or Jesse from Toy Story twirling a lasso? (Don’t worry: there are other new icons that aren’t Disney-related.) Beyond these little, animated icons, Apple also worked with Disney to create Pixar-themed posters — those full-screen overlays with animated backgrounds and text you can customize. In case you’re the type to keep track, we’re looking at 12 new posters for your Disney delectation.

Unsurprisingly, an Apple spokesperson said the company has received requests for other ( unspecified) characters to get the Clips animation treatment. While the spokesperson wouldn’t confirm that these sorts of Clips partnerships would extend beyond Disney, the company’s focus on adding more content to the app make such deals seem possible, if not likely.

All that Disney stuff aside, the most immediately useful change — for power users, anyway — is an easier way to edit Live Titles. Those are the auto-magically generated subtitles that pop up while you’re talking, and they can be surprisingly accurate when you make it a point to enunciate well. When it falls short, though, users can now just tap a button to jump straight into editing mode rather than tapping a clip with Live Titles, then tapping the text and then tweaking as needed.

If you’re a Clips fan, you might want to check out the App Store and claim your update. And if you’re not? Well, you’ll have a little trouble avoiding the app in the future — Apple recently started pre-loading Clips onto all new iOS devices.


Apple Reportedly Working With Chinese Manufacturer of Electric Vehicle Batteries

Apple is quietly working with Chinese battery manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited on automotive battery research and development, according to Shanghai-based news group Yicai Global.

The report, citing unnamed sources, claims the two companies have signed a confidentiality agreement to work together on a “scheme” related to the field of batteries, but no specific details were provided.

CATL was founded in 2011 as a spinoff of Amperex Technology Limited, said to be the largest battery supplier for Apple’s consumer electronics products, so the two companies already have an established business relationship.

The company, based in Ningde, China, describes itself as a leader in lithium-ion battery research and development, including battery cells, materials, and recycling. CATL says it currently has more than 3,700 full-time R&D personnel from a number of well-known universities and laboratories around the world.

CATL claims it has been the world’s third largest manufacturer of hybrid and electric vehicle batteries for the past two consecutive years, behind Chinese rival BYD and Panasonic, which supplies Tesla with batteries. The company’s lithium-ion batteries are used in both passenger vehicles and buses.

The scale of Apple’s involvement with CATL remains unknown, but the company has reportedly been testing self-driving vehicle software using a fleet of Lexus SUVs, which have recently been seen on streets in California.

Last year, Apple reportedly abandoned plans for its own electric vehicle, at least temporarily, after reports persisted for nearly two years about the so-called Apple Car, said to have been codenamed Project Titan internally. In recent months, Apple has emphasized its interest in autonomous technologies.

“We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” said Tim Cook, Apple CEO, in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Emily Chang last month. “It’s a core technology that we view as very important.”

CATL plans to increase its battery output to 50 gigawatt hours by 2020, which could make it one of the industry’s two largest manufacturers. The other, Tesla, expects total output from its Gigafactory in Nevada to reach at least 35 gigawatt hours, with the potential for up to 150 gigawatt hours, by 2020.

The company’s other goals by 2020 include significantly reducing battery costs, improving energy density, and increasing the speed of charging. Last year, it demonstrated a 4C fast-charging solution that takes only 15 minutes to charge a lithium-ion electric vehicle battery to the 90 percent level.

Related Roundup: Apple Car
Tags: China, CATL,
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Apple Earns Title of World’s Most Profitable Company on Fortune Global 500 List

In June, Apple was ranked as #3 on the 2017 Fortune 500 annual list of the top U.S. corporations based on gross revenue. Today, the Fortune Global 500 rankings have been released, using the same data collected in the earlier rankings but expanding it and adding in companies on a global scale, resulting in a list that shares the 500 largest companies in the world.

Apple sits at #9 on the list in terms of total revenue, a spot it retains from 2016, and having climbed from #15 in 2014 and 2015. Where Apple sits above all other companies is in the profits category, earning the title of the most profitable company in the world with an annual profit of $45.6 billion. Apple earned the top spot despite a 14.4 percent drop in its annual profits compared to the previous year.

Rounding out the top 5 slots below Apple are all banks based in China: Industrial and Commercial Bank of China ($41.8 billion), China Construction Bank ($34.8 billion), Agricultural Bank of China ($27.6 billion), and Bank of China ($24.7 billion). Further down the most profitable rankings are Alphabet at #9 ($19.4 billion), Samsung Electronics at #10 ($19.3 billion), and Microsoft at #13 ($16.7 billion).

Apple’s profile on the Fortune Global 500 ranking includes a chart of its history on the list, including its origins at #422 in overall revenue back in 1995, its dropping off of the list from 1998 to 2005, and its peak growth to #9 in 2016. Otherwise, Apple’s profile includes the same quote as its Fortune 500 ranking, describing a company that “appeared to hit a wall” this past year with iPhone sales.

After more than a decade of solid growth fueled first by the iPod music player and then by the even more popular iPhone, Apple finally appeared to hit a wall, with lackluster sales “relatively speaking” for other products such as the iPad and Apple Watch and a heavy reliance on upgraded phone models. But the most profitable publicly-traded company in the world is investing heavily in software and its efforts in new areas of opportunity, including automobiles, remain in development (and under wraps). Apple was founded in 1977 and is headquartered in Cupertino, Calif.

Lackluster iPhone sales contributed to an overall revenue decline for Apple throughout much of 2016, but now it’s predicted that the company will see a noticeable uptick in sales thanks to the launch of a significantly redesigned “iPhone 8,” expected to be announced and debut this fall.

Tag: Fortune 500
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Apple Updates ‘Clips’ Video App With Disney Characters, New Graphics Overlays

Apple today updated its video creation app Clips with a handful of new features, introducing new graphic overlay options and support for Disney and Pixar characters.

Clips, first released back in April, is designed to let users combine several video clips, images, and photos with voice-based titles, music, filters, and graphics to create videos that can be shared in Messages and via social networks.

With today’s update, Apple has added dozens of new graphic overlays and animated poster designs to enhance text-based additions that are added to videos. Posters range from glistening water to slow motion billowing smoke and 3D art.

Apple has also partnered with Disney to introduce animated overlays featuring classic Disney and Pixar characters. Animated overlays, which are akin to stickers, can be added to videos and photos. Available characters include Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, along with those from both Toy Story and Inside Out.

Clips was released as a standalone app in April, but Apple has made it a default pre-installed app on new iOS devices, making it more readily available to customers.

The new update is available today from the App Store. [Direct Link]

Tag: Clips
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