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Intel tells customers to stop using its faulty Spectre patch

Intel has another Spectre patch in the works, after users reported that its last fix led to random rebooting issues. Consequently, the company is now recommending that its customers stop deploying that original patch, and instead start testing out the new and improved version. Navin Shenoy, executive vice president and general manager of Intel’s Data Center group, said in a blog post today that the company has “identified the root cause” for system instability in its Broadwell and Haswell chips, and it started rolling out the new patch to partners over the weekend. For now, all consumers can do is wait for a final version of that fix.

“We recommend that OEMs, cloud service providers, system manufacturers, software vendors and end users stop deployment of current versions, as they may introduce higher than expected reboots and other unpredictable system behavior,” Shenoy wrote.

Last week, Intel said it was working on a fix for the buggy patches, but it was unclear when that would actually reach customers. Now, at least, computer makers have something to test. The company also admitted that the buggy patches also affected newer CPU lines, and it’s unclear if this upcoming fix will resolve those issues as well.

Source: Intel


This is what the Xbox Watch could have looked like

Microsoft has a tumultuous relationship with smartwatches. Its bulky wrist-mounted wearable, the Band and Band 2, saw limited success at retail but couldn’t compete with sales of the Fitbit or the Apple Watch. As of October 2016, it seems the Band brand has been shut down for good. However, hands-on photos shared by Twitter user @Hikari_Calyx show Microsoft was prototyping another fitness tracker that incorporated Xbox-style tiles in a more traditional smartwatch package.

The Xbox Watch – Pin Diagram
Yes we successfully booted up an Xbox Watch. Video is processing now.

— Hikari Calyx (@Hikari_Calyx) January 22, 2018

According to the photos, the Xbox Watch was sports-focused, offering tabs for workouts, heart-rate monitoring and GPS tracking. It had a black, square screen with rounded edges, and would ostensibly connect to a variety of wristbands, much like the Apple Watch does. This is something Microsoft would have been working on around 2013, about one year after the Pebble smartwatch raised more than $10 million on Kickstarter.

Try to feel terrible resolution of Xbox Watch… If you find the Xbox Watch can’t be recharged, you can disassemble the screen with an utility knife or a razor, then hit the positive pole on the battery with piezoelectric ceramic igniter from a lighter.

— Hikari Calyx (@Hikari_Calyx) January 22, 2018

Microsoft’s experiments with the Band and Band 2 led the company to a clear conclusion: Smartwatches aren’t worth it. That seems to be the case, at least. Microsoft hasn’t released another wrist-bound wearable since the Band 2 landed in 2015, and it doesn’t even have a mobile OS any longer. Instead, the company is more focused on mixed reality (bringing VR and AR into our everyday lives) and the future of artificial intelligence. This doesn’t mean the Band was worthless — Microsoft will surely infuse future designs for VR headsets, AR glasses and other wearables with lessons learned from the fitness tracker and its abandoned Xbox Watch.


Apple Launches ‘Apple Music for Artists’ Analytics Dashboard

Apple is debuting “Apple Music for Artists,” an analytics dashboard aimed specifically at musicians. The new feature, which was outlined by Billboard, is meant to provide artists and bands with insight into the listening and buying habits of their fans.

The dashboard home page offers up an artist’s current number of plays, spins, song purchases, and album purchases, with built-in tools able to provide data dating back to June of 2015, which is when Apple Music first launched.

An Insights panel available through the dashboard highlights milestones like all time number of plays, purchases of specific songs, and cumulative purchases, while a global map is designed to allow musicians to click on any of the 115 countries where Apple Music/iTunes is available to see purchase history.

Data for individual cities is included, such as top songs in each city, with further demographic breakdowns available, and another feature lists all of the Apple-curated playlists where an artist’s songs appear.

Apple’s aim with Apple Music for Artists is to provide more information to independent acts who might not otherwise have access to detailed analytics. Canadian R&B singer Daniel Caesar told Billboard that Apple’s analytics dashboard gives smaller artists the tools they need to compete with bigger acts.

“As a truly independent artist with a small team, music analytics is something we can’t do without. We don’t have the luxury of deep major label market research to rely on to help us make important decisions like where to perform and how to advertise the things that we make. Apple’s analytics tool helps to level the playing field for artists like myself.”

A few thousand artists have been invited to join Apple Music for Artists as of today as part of a beta test, and later, the feature will be expanded to all artists that have content on the iTunes and Apple Music platforms.

Tag: Apple Music
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Facebook explores whether social media is good for democracy

As part of its Hard Questions series, Facebook has decided to explore the question of whether social media is good for democracy. The last US presidential election brought that question to the fore of many people’s minds, directly or indirectly, as it became clear that fake news and meddling by foreign actors played not insignificant roles. For this topic, Facebook is doing something a little different, inviting three outside experts to share their thoughts on this question and those individuals include Harvard professor Cass Sunstein, social media scholar and former president of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves and University of Sydney professor Ariadne Vromen.

To kick off the discussion, Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook’s head of civic engagement, laid out some of the biggest issues that come with how democracy is affected by social media. Of course foreign interference and fake news made the list, but so did echo chambers, political harassment, unequal participation and political engagement. “Facebook was originally designed to connect friends and family — and it has excelled at that,” Chakrabarti said in a blog post. “But as unprecedented numbers of people channel their political energy through this medium, it’s being used in unforeseen ways with societal repercussions that were never anticipated.”

Chakrabarti goes on to note some of the ways Facebook has tried to fix some of the problems that have become more apparent in recent years. It’s instituting new transparency rules for political advertising and has tried to combat fake news with fact-checkers, demonetization and deprioritization. Its Related Articles News Feed feature is an attempt to break through echo chambers. And tools like Voting Plan appear to keep people more informed about elections while better privacy models are geared towards engaging more individuals in online discussions.

But Chakrabarti recognizes democracy won’t be protected by tweaks to an algorithm or a handful of new Facebook features and he says that Facebook certainly doesn’t have all of the answers when it comes to what social networks can or even should do in this regard. “If there’s one fundamental truth about social media’s impact on democracy it’s that it amplifies human intent — both good and bad. At its best, it allows us to express ourselves and take action. At its worst, it allows people to spread misinformation and corrode democracy,” he writes. “I wish I could guarantee that the positives are destined to outweigh the negatives, but I can’t.” And he says that companies like Facebook, therefore, have a “moral duty” to understand how their platforms are being used and how they can ensure as much as possible that they are “as representative, civil and trustworthy as possible.”

Sunstein’s post largely focuses on echo chambers and how social networks’ attempt to personalize a user’s feed may inherently set up those “information cocoons” as he calls them. He points to a Facebook post that stated the company wanted to bring stories to News Feed that are most relevant to the user and “to give you the most personalized experience.” In response, Sunstein writes, “Really? I hope not. From the standpoint of democracy, that’s a nightmare.”

Sunstein discusses an experiment he conducted a few years back that explored how individuals’ political opinions fared when they discussed them with similarly minded people. He found that regardless of their political party, people left those discussions with more extreme opinions than they entered them with, and Sunstein says echo chambers in social media are similar in construction to that experiment and likely have similar outcomes. “The good news is that social media platforms are hardly a finished fact to be categorically assessed,” he says. “They are very much a work in progress.” And he points to Facebook’s Related Articles as an example of ongoing improvement. “It could do much more. It could continue to focus on reducing personalization and more on producing information to people, expanding their horizons and potentially counteracting polarization,” he added.

Ilves’ and Vromen’s guest blog posts will be published this week. But so far, this issue of Hard Questions seems to come to a similar conclusion as a recent one that tackled whether social media was good for mental health. It all depends on how you use it. “We’re as determined as ever to fight the negative influences and ensure that our platform is unquestionably a source for democratic good,” wrote Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global politics and government outreach director. “There is much to build on in this regard, from the powerful role social media plays in giving people a voice in the democratic process to its ability to deliver information on an unprecedented scale.”

Via: Reuters

Source: Facebook


Amazon’s convenience store of the future makes me nervous

Half a decade in the making, and after a year of intensive testing, Amazon’s cashier-free convenience store is opening to the public. Amazon Go, located at the base of the company’s Seattle HQ, is the first of its kind: a convenience store with no checkouts, no lines and no stress. Simply walk in, select your purchases and walk out — a seamless, frictionless, fast way to grab a sandwich for lunch. At least that’s the story Amazon wants you to know.

If it works — and we’ll find out for sure in the next couple of months — it will utterly revolutionize the way we buy groceries. Scan your phone on the entry turnstile and the store’s army of cameras will begin tracking your every move. Facial, image, body and object recognition algorithms will enable the system to spot your purchase as you take it from the shelf and put it in your basket.

When you’re done buying a mix of freshly made convenience foods and ingredients for your evening meal (including booze), you just gotta leave through the door. That’s it. The system has your credit card details on file, and you’ll instantly be billed for what you take as soon as you walk out. Except for the odd random spot check by a flesh-and-blood employee to ensure the system hasn’t gone haywire and to verify alcohol purchases, you will have no human interaction.

As someone who hates both waiting in line and the unpleasant experience of convenience shopping, Go is a dream come true. If such a store were built into my main station in London, I’d be able to turn up for my journey a little later, knowing I could grab a pasta salad and bag of chips without waiting in line. (Automated checkout machines in UK supermarkets and convenience stores have mitigated this problem somewhat.)

Amazon has created a technical marvel here, assuming again that it all works outside of Amazon’s own tests, which included a shopful of customers all dressed as Pikachu. A system capable of identifying that many users at once, and their purchases, all in real time, is a gargantuan achievement. It’s likely that ironing out the kinks in this system was what caused the long delay between the store’s planned launch and its opening today.

There’s also the fact that Amazon, a company that never met a piece of data it didn’t like, is going to learn so much from this project. Supermarkets already goose their customers looking for the best way to sell to them, from shelf placement and muzak choice through to loyalty card purchase tracking. Don’t forget that Target was able to work out that a teenage girl was pregnant before she herself knew, thanks to the power of its data.

Amazon is getting a piece of that action, and you can bet its cameras will be gaining insights from everything you do. From the way people stand as they browse through to how they reach their arm forward, it’ll be logged and crunched. And all of this will be fed back into the system to ensure that customers get what they want, and that Amazon maintains their loyalty.

The company won’t even need to retrofit its platforms into the network of Whole Foods stores it now owns, although it may do so in the future. The insights gleaned from even a handful of Go outlets will be a petri dish through which other experiments can be conducted.


Mike Kane/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The existence of Go also serves to reinforce a couple of unpleasant truths about the world. A frictionless shopping experience is great, but it serves to throw up a couple of walls between Amazon and the most disadvantaged in society. For instance, 77 percent of Americans have smartphones, while there are plenty of people — often African or Latin American — who are denied access to proper banking facilities. Since you need both to access a Go, the implication is clear: Jeff Bezos may love your money, but he’s not going to accept your custom, so some of us will have to head on over to Dollar General.

The wider point here is that Amazon is attempting to completely dissolve the relationship between commerce and money — and it troubles me. Amazon presumes your consent when you depart the store, laden with wares, and the company takes your cash automatically. But should we be placing so much blind faith in this particular retailer?

There are price labels on each shelf edge, sure, but how much time are you spending logging each purchase against the value charged? Not to mention that Amazon doesn’t have an unimpeachable reputation when it comes to its pricing: In 2014, it changed the price of a product eight times in a single day. What are the chances that you walk out of a store thinking that you’re staying within budget, only to find a nasty surprise weeks later on your credit card statement?

I won’t deny that both are personal issues for me. I grew up in a single-parent family on welfare. For us, shopping was a prolonged chore where we had to make sure we had enough food to last a week on our slender £10 budget — around $15 in 1994 money. That meant hunting for bargains and constantly chopping and changing what we’d selected from the shelves if we found a clearance item or something on the damaged-item shelf. A piece of folded paper, a pencil and plenty of time were our only weapons, along with our wits. Our local corner store, which admittedly wasn’t actually on a corner, used to offer us nod-and-wink terms when things were tight, and we made sure to repay their generosity when we could. I very much doubt that Amazon Go will be able to do the same.

What happens when our relationship with money is entirely unshackled from how we buy things in the real world? Credit cards and contactless payment methods have already trained us to spend more freely than perhaps we should, but what about when there’s no relationship there at all? Mindless shopping is a luxury that can be afforded only by the few; everyone else will just feel the pain when their statement lands in the inbox.


DJI’s Mavic Air drone may have improved 4K video

DJI is supposed to be unveiling a new drone on January 23rd, but the cat might already be out of the bag. Kanzhaji has posted photos and details of the Mavic Air, a foldable drone that would reportedly slot neatly between the diminutive Spark and the existing foldable drone, the Mavic Pro. It wouldn’t last as long as the Pro (certainly not the Platinum edition) with a 21-minute flight time, but it might actually best its higher-end ancestor in a few areas. You’d get 60FPS 4K video recording instead of the Pro’s 30FPS, an additional backward proximity sensor and 32-megapixel spherical photos.

The Mavic Air would borrow a bit from the Spark, but mostly in visual cues: it appears to be smaller (and stubbier), and it’ll come in multiple colors with a sleeker, glossier shell.

It’s not certain when the Air would ship or how much it would cost. Given its feature blend, though, we’d anticipate a price in between the $499 Spark and $999 Mavic Pro. If so, it shows just how important the personal drone market has become. Even a relatively modest $200 to $300 difference could make DJI’s technology accessible to a considerably wider audience, and it might be many drone enthusiasts’ first folding model.

Source: Kanzhaji (translated)


Hulu and YouTube are off to a solid start with live TV

Hulu and YouTube both launched live TV streaming services last year, and now CNBC has a first look at subscriber numbers for both sites. Hulu is at 450,000 paid subscribers, which doesn’t include people using the service under free promotions, and YouTube comes in lower at 300,000 subscribers. Both of these numbers were shared by insiders with knowledge of the situation.

The subscriber numbers aren’t mind-blowing, but they do demonstrate solid subscriber bases. Both come in lower than competitors Sling and DirectTV Now, which have 1 million and 2 million subscribers, respectively. However, these two have the advantage of being supported by traditional telecom companies, and both services also launched earlier.

It remains to be seen whether streaming live TV services can make a go of it without being supported by telecom giants. One of the biggest challenges (and the supposed reason Amazon stepped out of the streaming live TV sphere) is negotiating agreements with the cable companies. However, it appears as though YouTube and Hulu are slowly making strides and growing their customer bases.

Source: CNBC


iTunes snafu made ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ available almost a month early

When you check out the Thor: Ragnarok page on iTunes, it says pre-orders of digital copies are expected to arrive on February 20th. But as TorrentFreak reports, some people got their hands on the Marvel film about a month early due to some sort of snafu with iTunes and Movies Anywhere.

According to TorrentFreak, a Reddit user said in a now-deleted post that their legal purchase of the film on Vudu landed them an iTunes copy of it the next day. “I pre-ordered Thor Ragnarok on Vudu yesterday and it links it to my iTunes also. But curiously it showed up in my iTunes library this morning (pre-orders shouldn’t). And now I can watch the full movie in HD,” they wrote. “I obviously downloaded it right away. I know its supposed to come out February 20th.” Others then responded that going that same purchase route made the movie available to them in iTunes as well.

Movies Anywhere is a Disney-owned platform that lets users link their iTunes, Vudu, Amazon and Google Play accounts so that any movies they’ve purchased through those outlets can be viewed all in one place. It’s not exactly clear what went wrong in this case, but it demonstrates how tricky cross-service content options can be.

Naturally, pirated copies of Thor: Ragnarok are now popping up all over the place.

Via: TorrentFreak


Kim Dotcom sues the New Zealand government for $6.8 billion

Kim Dotcom, the founder of file-sharing site MegaUpload, is suing the New Zealand government for $6.8 billion dollars. According to the legal documents provided by the BBC, the claim covers the destruction of his business, loss of reputation, lost business opportunities, legal costs and lost opportunities on the home he was renting.

Dotcom has certainly lost quite a bit, as according to the BBC, MegaUpload would be worth around $10 billion if it were still operating today. Dotcom owned 68 percent of the shares of the company, which was shut down in 2012 in a raid at the request of the FBI. He claims that his arrest, and the subsequent shutdown of his company, was unlawful. “Under the NZ copyright act, online copyright infringement is not a crime,” said Mr Dotcom said to the BBC.

Dotcom may soon be extradited to the US, where he stands to face copyright and money laundering charges. The hearing for that case is set for February 20th.

Source: BBC (1), BBC (2)


Uber security flaw compromised two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication only works if it’s strictly enforced in software, and it sounds like Uber might have fallen short of that goal for a while. In a chat with ZDNet, security researcher Karan Saini has revealed a flaw in Uber’s two-factor verification that reportedly rendered it useless. Saini has been keeping the exact details of the exploit under wraps to prevent abuse, but it revolved around a vulnerability in how Uber authenticates users when they sign in. The net effect was clear: an intruder might have only needed your username and password to sign in, giving them the chance to swipe personal info or misuse services.

Saini characterized Uber’s response as dismissive, although Uber is telling a different story. The ridesharing company initially told him that the issue wasn’t “particularly severe” and was expected, marking it as “informative” — that is, notable but not pressing. When we reached out to Uber, however, it said that it had fixed the flaw (Saini had previously been informed about this) and that it applied the “informative” label because it was already working on a solution.

The odds are that your data is safe as a result. All the same, this illustrates the fragility of two-factor security. It’s much better than a basic sign-in, but it can be defeated in the right circumstances. You still need to keep an eye on your account activity in case intruders are particularly determined to hijack your account.

Source: ZDNet

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