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30
Jan

Justice Dept and SEC are reportedly reviewing Apple’s iPhone slowdowns


In December, Apple admitted to slowing older models of iPhones, saying the practice kept older phones with aging batteries from suddenly rebooting. Apple is now facing multiple lawsuits in the US and abroad as well as an investigation in France. And now, Bloomberg reports, the US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are looking into whether the company’s handling of the slowdowns violated any securities laws.

Bloomberg’s sources said that government officials had asked Apple for information, but they also made it clear that the probe is in its early stages. What, if any, action will be taken by the agencies is still up in the air as of now.

After Apple’s slowdowns became public knowledge, the company apologized and reduced its battery replacement price. With an upcoming OS update — iOS 11.3 — Apple will let iPhone users monitor their batteries’ health and choose whether to activate reboot-preventing slowdowns.

Earlier this month, Senator John Thune sent Apple CEO Tim Cook a letter requesting answers to a slew of questions about the slowdowns and Apple’s handling of them. He had asked for a response by January 23rd.

Via: Bloomberg

30
Jan

U.S. Government Investigating Apple’s Power Management Features That Slow Older iPhones


Apple is continuing to face scrutiny over the power management features it introduced in older iPhones last year, with the U.S Department of Justice and the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission launching an investigation into the company, reports Bloomberg.

The DoJ and the SEC are aiming to determine whether Apple violated security laws “concerning its disclosures” when it launched an iOS 10.2.1 update that throttled some older iPhones with degraded batteries in order to prevent unexpected device shutdowns.

According to Bloomberg’s sources, the government recently requested information from Apple and the investigation is in the early stages.

Apple in iOS 10.2.1 introduced a new power management feature to address complaints of unexpected shutdowns in iPhone 6 and 6s iPhones. The shutdowns were caused by batteries below optimal health drawing too much power.

At the time, Apple did not make it clear that to solve the issue, it was throttling the iPhone’s processor at times of peak usage to limit power draw, and that lack of information has led to the company’s current predicament.

The full details behind the power management feature implemented in iOS 10.2.1 were not explained until benchmark testing revealed older iPhones with degraded batteries were being deliberately slowed down, and without an adequate explanation from Apple, customers were outraged and dozens of lawsuits were filed.

Apple has since apologized and made reparations in the form of a new no-questions-asked discounted battery replacement program available to customers who have an iPhone 6 and newer, and the company is planning to introduce much more detailed battery information in an upcoming iOS 11.3 update. iOS 11.3 will let customers know when their iPhones are being throttled due to battery degradation, and it will also allow them to opt out of the power management features.

Despite these efforts, Apple is still facing the aforementioned lawsuits and in addition to the U.S. investigation, the company will need to deal with inquiries in other countries including China, Italy, South Korea, France, Brazil, and more.

Related Roundups: iPhone 6s, iPhone 7Tag: iPhone SlowdownBuyer’s Guide: iPhone 8 (Neutral), iPhone 8 (Neutral)
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30
Jan

Court ruling will force UK to limit its surveillance powers


The UK government is definitely going to have to make some significant changes to its digital surveillance regime after the Court of Appeal today ruled various snooping powers unlawful. Specifically, the court said that communications data — the who, when, where and how of a conversation, but not the content — must only be accessed for the purposes of “fighting serious crime.” Furthermore, the state must not look at data before first receiving the approval of a court or independent body. Unfortunately for the government, the Investigatory Powers Act (IP Act) that became law in late 2016 doesn’t comply with these rules of thumb, so it looks like there’s no other option but to make some serious amendments.

The Court of Appeal judgment has been a very, very long time coming, and is actually relevant to a now-expired law, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA). You see, the EU issued a directive way back in 2006 that compelled telecoms providers to store data for law enforcement to use in investigating serious crimes. Years later in 2014, though, a legal challenge resulted in the EU Court of Justice invalidating the directive on the grounds it was too broad in scope and didn’t contain safeguards compatible with privacy and data protection rights.

This meant the UK government had to throw together emergency legislation in the form of DRIPA to keep the wheels of surveillance turning. But that, too, ended up being deemed incompatible with privacy and data protection laws by the UK’s High Court. The government appealed that ruling, but before making a call, the Court of Appeal asked the EU Court of Justice to clarify whether the judgment it made back in 2014 — which spawned DRIPA in the first place — was specific to the EU directive, or set a precedent for future surveillance legislation.

The EU court basically said ‘yes,’ any future surveillance law must follow in the spirit of the 2014 ruling. While all this was going on, the government set about drafting new legislation that pulled all relevant laws into one bill, updated them to reflect technological advancements and expanded its surveillance powers. DRIPA was an emergency measure, after all, and as such had a built-in self-destruct timer.

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The issue that the government now has is that although the Court of Appeal has ruled the out-of-date DRIPA unlawful, there’s no ignoring the fact that the IP Act is also at odds with the judgment. If anything, it’s even more contentious. Under the IP Act, the government can instruct telecoms providers to record the online activity (aka Internet Connection Records, or ICRS) of all their customers for 12 months. ICRs include the top-level domains you’ve visited (such as engadget.com) as well as data related to messaging apps and other online services.

These ICRs can be accessed by law enforcement and other government agencies with a warrant or similar approval, and for reasons not always specific to the investigation of serious crimes. In a roundabout way, the Court of Appeal today ruled these powers unlawful. Interestingly, the court didn’t pass any judgment the use of ‘bulk’ powers, which were challenged in the DRIPA case and remarked on by the EU Court of Justice.

Bulk powers are not targeted, but indiscriminate. They include the interception of communications content (emails, text conversations, phone taps, etc.) and the hacking of devices on a grand scale. The retention of ICRs fall under the definition of bulk data collection, too, and are likely incompatible with privacy laws since they involve the surveillance of innocent people. The counter-argument to this is: You can’t find the needle if there’s no haystack to search through.

Part of the reason the Court of Appeal didn’t pass judgment on bulk powers is because human rights group Liberty is challenging the IP Act directly in the High Court — a case that’s due to be heard at the end of February. At that point, the fact today’s ruling applies to DRIPA will become irrelevant, because the IP Act will have to be reviewed in light of this decision and the EU Court of Justice’s previous opinion. What’s more, in another ongoing case Privacy International is currently asking the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) to decide whether the intelligence services’ use of bulk powers complies with European law — the group has successfully proved otherwise before. As seems to be the done thing, the IPT has referred the case to the EU Court of Justice, asking specifically whether its opinions on DRIPA apply here too, and if there is any leeway “for the purposes of national security.”

Man in a Control Room Using a Telephone and Looking at a Large Group of Surveillance TV Screens

The government was pretty sure the Court of Appeal would rule the way it did today. In reaction to the EU Court of Justice ruling, it announced last November it would begin consulting on amendments to the IP Act. These include adding a new authorisation process for accessing communications data, and clarifying they must only be used in the investigation of “serious crime.” The government is also preparing “additional safeguards” that must be considered before asking a provider to begin collecting ICRs.

Thus, the government appears to be one step ahead of the Court of Appeal ruling already. The Home Office has today released a statement from Security Minister Ben Wallace, some of which we’ve heard before.

“Communications data is used in the vast majority of serious and organised crime prosecutions and has been used in every major Security Service counter-terrorism investigation over the last decade. It is often the only way to identify paedophiles involved in online child abuse as it can be used to find where and when these horrendous crimes have taken place.

“This judgment relates to legislation which is no longer in force and, crucially, today’s judgement does not change the way in which law enforcement agencies can detect and disrupt crimes.

“We had already announced that we would be amending the Investigatory Powers Act to address the two areas in which the Court of Appeal has found against the previous data retention regime. We welcome the fact that the Court of Appeal ruling does not undermine the regime and we will continue to defend these vital powers, which Parliament agreed were necessary in 2016, in ongoing litigation.”

Tom Watson, one of the MPs that originally challenged DRIPA with Liberty’s help, said: “This legislation was flawed from the start. It was rushed through Parliament just before recess without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

“The Government must now bring forward changes to the Investigatory Powers Act to ensure that hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are innocent victims or witnesses to crime, are protected by a system of independent approval for access to communications data. I’m proud to have played my part in safeguarding citizen’s fundamental rights.”

Attacks on the IP Act are far from over, meaning the government may have to make amendments beyond those it’s already proposing. It’s imperative the law’s in good order come Brexit, too. If our surveillance regime is incompatible with EU privacy and data protection laws by the time we leave, there’s a chance the sharing of data between businesses and law enforcement agencies across the continent could be seriously disrupted.

Inline images: Shutterstock (Reddit on iPad); Getty / Flying Colours Ltd (Man in control room)

Via: Liberty, The Guardian

Source: Court of Appeal (via Liberty)

30
Jan

Azio’s Retro Classic keyboard is luxurious, but imperfect


Read this site for long enough and you’ll know I have a crazy love for ostentatious mechanical keyboards. The madder the design, and the louder its keys, the more I’m enthralled, and Azio’s latest offering is a real doozy. The Retro Classic is a USB or Bluetooth-equipped input device styled to make a steampunk faint in admiration. And even though I have no particular affiliation for that lifestyle, I love having it on my desk.

The first thing to say about the Retro Classic is that it looks like it was built in the 1920s by a coterie of cloth-hatted civil engineers. If you’re looking for something quiet and lightweight, this is the opposite, weighing in at a divinely heavy four pounds, clad in zinc aluminum with either a gunmetal or copper top. It’s sufficiently hefty that I’d be tempted to use it in self-defence against an armed burglar. There are four chunky rubber feet below the keyboard itself and the back two can be twisted to lift it up.

As the name implies, the Retro Classic is modeled after vintage typewriters with a mechanical hammer action. The switches in this case are produced by Kailh, aping the style and technology of the more well-known Cherry MX. Purists prefer the latter for serious, heavy-duty eSports, but Kailh’s switches will do for pretty much everyone else. There’s an excellent amount of travel and resistance, and a beautifully loud click when you reach the bottom of each key.

The custom-made semi-transparent keycaps are rounded and spaced a couple of millimeters from one another, tighter than comparable old-timey keyboards. The tradeoff between space and compactness is always the amount of errors you’re likely to make. And certainly, the learning curve is steep if you’re coming from another keyboard, but it’s nothing too egregious. In the first week or so of testing, the worst thing I did was hit the keyxap next top the one I wantedf.

Speaking of the keycaps, the unit comes set up for a Windows PC, so if you’re looking to run it with OS X, you’ll need to set aside 10 minutes. A bag of OS X-related keys are included in the packaging, along with a cleaning cloth, and you’ll be tasked with pulling off the existing caps. Fortunately, the keys can be pulled off pretty easily and pushed back on without the need of an additional tool or any sweat.

One of the big selling points for the Retro Classic is the use of natural wood and leather in its construction. The look, feel and smell of this thing is amazing, especially the Artisan with its leather topper. In fact, everything about this keyboard screams luxury, including its six-foot-long USB A to USB C cable: a godsend if you’re rocking a standing desk.

If I have a niggle or two, and of course I do, it’s that I have a sense Azio narrowly missed its chance of making my perfect keyboard. The keycaps are just a little bit too flimsy for a product as ostensibly premium as this one, and that’s a problem. The same goes for the screen-printed letters above the status lights in the top right-hand corner. The choice of serif font and the way it’s been applied is totally inconsistent with the sans-serif letters on the keys themselves. And it’s details like that which matter when you’re spending more than two benjamins on a keyboard.

Azio is selling the Retro Classic for $220, or $190 for the wired-only version. Having one of these on your desk is a delight, and it’s a keyboard that makes you more considered about how you type, and what you’re typing. I feel distinctly more hip having it on my desk, and it’s fortunate nobody checked my hip quota before sending it over.

But like all luxury keyboards, it’s a conversation piece, something that’s distinctly nice to have, rather than something that’s essential. You can pick up a decent keyboard for $10 — but this is the thing you buy when you’re making a statement. Do you need it? No, never. Do you want it? Of course you do, and it’s a joy to type with as well. It’s the same logic that applies to a first-class plane ticket or those limited-edition kicks you waited all night to buy. The question in all those scenarios is the same: Do you have that sort of money to burn?

30
Jan

DroNet’s neural network teaches UAVs to navigate city streets


Scientists from ETH Zurich are training drones how to navigate city streets by having them study things that already know how: cars and bicycles. The software being used is called DroNet, and it’s a convolutional neural network. Meaning, it learns to fly and navigate by flying and navigating. The scientists collected their own training data by strapping GoPros to cars and bikes, and rode around Zurich in addition to tapping publicly available videos on Github. So far, the drones have learned enough to not cross into oncoming traffic and to avoid obstacles like traffic pylons and pedestrians.

To achieve this, DroNet produces a pair of outputs from each frame of reference, a steering angle and a collision probability. The software doesn’t require much computing power, and also doesn’t need any GPUs (no need to pause your cryptocurrency mining), so it can be applied to a variety of UAVs, even palm-sized nano drones. As you’ll see in the video below, the results at this point are pretty impressive. The drones are even able to navigate indoor spaces like office buildings and parking garages as well — perfect for delivering packages — with no training data.

Speaking to IEEE Spectrum, University of Zurich’s Professor Scaramuzza said not to get too excited just yet. For starters, the drone’s motion and prediction abilities are constrained to a constant height and the neural network hasn’t been integrated with exploration tasks. So, it sounds like using a DroNet-equipped UAV on a search-and-rescue mission in the woods might not be feasible at the moment.

The end goal? Drones that can fly around and navigate “exactly” like birds do, according to Scaramuzza. Let’s hope Boston Dynamics doesn’t catch wind of this.

Via: IEEE Spectrum

Source: ETH Zurich

30
Jan

Amazon Treasure Trucks are hawking their wares at Whole Foods


Amazon’s attempts to pitch its own brand at Whole Foods will clearly extend well beyond pop-up stores. The internet retailer has announced that its deal-serving Treasure Trucks are starting to appear at “various” Whole Foods Market stores across the US, giving you a chance to pick up discounted products (ordered through the Amazon mobile app) while you’re shopping for produce. This isn’t just about advertising Amazon, though.

The January 30th introductory offer is an Instant Pot pressure cooker. Rather appropriate for a Whole Foods location, don’t you think? However, you’ll also receive a coupon for $10 off $40 a Whole Foods purchase as well as recipes from Nom Nom Paleo writer Michelle Tam. As such, this is more about creating a harmonious link between Amazon and Whole Foods than promoting one or the other.

There’s no mention as to if or when the truck appearances will wind down. We’ve asked Amazon for more details about the campaign. It wouldn’t be shocking if these continued indefinitely, mind you. Amazon wants to remind everyone that it owns Whole Foods, and it will likely drive that point home as long as it can.

Source: Amazon

30
Jan

Get a glimpse of Netflix’s latest sci-fi movie, ‘Mute’


February will hopefully be rewarding for sci-fi fans who subscribe to Netflix. In addition to Altered Carbon’s debut this week, later in the month we’ll finally get a peek at director Duncan Jones’ Mute. The movie has been floating around for about as long as Jones has been a filmmaker (he previously directed Moon, Source Code and Warcraft), and now we finally have a look at it. The movie follows a mute bartender caught up in a jam, and features as much neon, mustachioed Paul Rudd and as many flying cars as you’d hope. If this was enough to stoke your curiosity, the movie premieres February 23rd.

Source: Netflix (YouTube)

30
Jan

The state of solar installers after Trump’s tariff


Two days after President Donald Trump signed hefty tariffs on imported solar panels, a five-man team was hauling slabs of them up the outside of a brownstone in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.

In below-freezing January winds, they set up steel tilt racks on the roof to hold 16 panels and wired the system to a solar inverter, making the power usable in the house and able to feed back into the electrical grid. The team from Brooklyn SolarWorks, an installation company with 21 full-time employees, finished the job around sunset.

The contract cost about $27,000. But James Luria, a media consultant who has only owned the house for six months, expects to pay around $3,000 for the installation. “It was the obvious thing to do,” Luria said.

Among the reasons for the cut price: a 30 percent federal tax credit, 25 percent New York state credit, 20 percent off property tax in New York City and a net-metering policy that allows homes to sell their excess solar power back to the grid. While the incentives vary across states, places like California, Massachusetts and South Carolina have made solar increasingly attractive for individual homeowners as much as corporations, and the average cost of a solar installation has dropped more than 70 percent since 2010. New York aims to have 50 percent of the state’s energy come from renewables by 2030.

This rapid growth and promise of a rosy future is part of the reason for the concern over Trump’s recent tariffs. The 30 percent markup on solar cells from overseas — which ultimately falls to 15 percent over the next four years — could lead to a net loss of 23,000 American jobs, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association. Analysts at GTM Research predict an 11 percent reduction in panel installations over the next half decade while Bloomberg reports that installation costs will increase 3 percent for residences, 4.4 percent for commercial projects and nearly 9 percent for utility-scale facilities like solar farms.

The tariffs also reflect how the burgeoning solar market in the US — and the energy industry as a whole — is tied to government policies that can easily swing a company’s or consumer’s decision to invest in renewables. Even in December, an industry report found that “political uncertainty” including the threat of tariffs was responsible for a decline in installations.

“Utilities are the last natural monopoly — or at least formerly natural monopoly — in the country, and that by necessity provides a lot of regulation,” said Evan Dube, senior director of public policy at Sunrun, a national solar company. “In general, when you’re dealing with energy, you’re dealing with this regulatory environment.”

“There is no question that policy is a very important part of what we do,” said Dan Whitten, a spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association. However, he added, “The money we spend on lobbying is a drop in the bucket compared to other industries.”

According to the nonprofit Solar Foundation, there are more than 260,000 jobs in the solar industry, a 178 percent growth since 2010. The vast majority of those jobs are not in manufacturing panels but in the labor surrounding the equipment — solar panel installer is set to be the fastest-growing job in the US over the next decade. Companies that handle electrical work, construct supports for solar panels and carry out repairs are the core of the business in the US and therefore the companies that will be most affected by tariffs.

Those are companies like Brooklyn SolarWorks, the outfit behind last week’s brownstone installation, which started three years ago. CEO T.R. Ludwig said that because the industry relies heavily on incentives, it develops in fits and starts (he calls it the solar coaster). His company, which also specializes in rooftop solar “canopies” on stilts, is “barely” profitable, he said. Nearly all of his panels come from overseas makers like South Korea’s LG, and he took a loan to secure $250,000 worth of them at the end of 2017, anticipating the tariffs.

“This is a trade case, about manufacturing, but the way solar has gotten its toehold is that these panels don’t install themselves. There’s a whole apparatus around these panels,” he said. “If this makes the projects more expensive and there’s that many less projects being green-lighted, that’s going to have a real effect on the jobs for these people.”

Jessica Baldwin, the president of six-person New York installation company Solar Plumbing Design, said she was more concerned with the winding down of the federal tax credits starting in 2020 (by 2023 the residential credit will disappear while commercial and utility credits remain at 10 percent) and potential changes to net metering in New York. “I’d say the tariff is the least of the problems,” she said.

Incentives are designed to jump-start an industry while companies drive costs down, not sustain those companies forever. But shifts in energy policy affect customer decisions to switch to solar and, therefore, valuable jobs in the industry.

Take Nevada, with its thousands of square miles of desert. At the end of 2015, state regulators scrapped net metering in the state. Major solar companies Vivint, Sunrun and SolarCity subsequently pulled out of the state, and around 2,600 jobs vanished. Eighteen months later, the state legislature allowed customers to sell their electricity back to the grid again.

While solar is on the frontier of energy technology, its installation jobs are essentially manual labor. “It’s a construction job,” said Ludwig, whose company pays its installers between $18 and $35 per hour, without them necessarily needing experience in the solar industry before joining.

Michael Lawrence, for instance, was the on-site electrician at the recent Brooklyn roof installation. With a background in construction, he has moved from Pennsylvania to Connecticut and now New York, chasing gigs wherever the government incentives are strongest. “It’s been nonstop work the whole time,” he said. He’s now been in solar for nearly a decade.

30
Jan

Pinterest hires Google computer vision expert to sort your Pins


Pinterest is very committed to improving its search technology through AI — so committed, in fact, that it just hired one of the foremost experts in the field. The social network has announced that it’s recruiting Chuck Rosenberg, Google’s AI vision research leader, to become its Head of Computer Vision. He spent just shy of 14 years at Google and was responsible for a number of major AI-related efforts, including the first large deployment of an image-focused deep learning network.

The exact nature of what Rosenberg is doing is under wraps, to no one’s surprise, but he’s expected to guide engineers as they craft “large-scale” object detection algorithms. Before Google, he worked at HP Labs and was one of iRobot’s earliest employees.

While it might seem odd for Rosenberg to switch employers while Google is still pushing the boundaries of AI, it’s easy to see why Pinterest would want to reel him in. He’s joining right as the company’s AI-based image recognition is hitting its stride — there are now over 300 million visual searches every month, or a 70 percent increase compared to a year earlier. Rosenberg could prove instrumental to keeping that momentum going, and could make Pinterest indispensable the next time you need to find a recipe or choose an outfit.

Source: Pinterest

30
Jan

Google credits AI for stopping more rogue Android apps in 2017


Google likes to boast of its ability to shut down Android malware, and it apparently has good reason to brag about 2017. The company took down over 700,000 apps that violated Play Stores policies last year (a 70 percent increase over 2016), and it was considerably better at pulling rogue apps in time to avoid infections. Thanks to a slew of new machine learning techniques, it caught 99 percent of apps with “abusive contents” before anyone had installed them.

It credits Google Play Protect for one of the biggest improvements: its ability to spot extremely harmful apps that commit fraud, steal info or allow hijacks. While there weren’t many of them, the mechanism reduced the number of installations by an “order of magnitude” over 2016, Google said. It added that it took down over 250,000 copycat apps (those trying to piggyback off the success of popular apps) and “tens of thousands” of apps violating policies against apps that feature hate speech, illegal acts and porn.

Google is fully aware that its system isn’t foolproof, and that some apps will still slip through the cracks. The improvements do make a better case for sticking to Google Play for app downloads when you can, though.

Of course, it’s important to stress that this is just one part of the Android security puzzle, and that there are lingering issues that may be difficult or impossible to completely address. Although Google Play Services helps make Protect and other security measures available across a wide range of Android versions, it’s still true that most Android phones aren’t running recent editions of the operating system. If there’s a fix that requires a newer OS, you’re stuck.

And remember, many Android users in China and elsewhere don’t have access to the Play Store. They have to go through third-party outlets, some of which have poor malware screening. There’s only so much Google can do to help when offering the Play Store in China would involve censorship and other compromises, but that still leaves a large chunk of the Android world in a more vulnerable position.

Source: Google

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