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Industry & Technology

Senate Judiciary committee interrogates Apple, Facebook about crypto

Ars Technica - 4 hours 6 min ago

Enlarge / Lindsay Graham doesn't want people reading his texts. But he'll make darned sure there are backdoors for law enforcement into encrypted texts and devices, and he will pass a law if he needs to. (credit: US Senate)

In a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, while their counterparts in the House were busy with articles of impeachment, senators questioned New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance, University of Texas Professor Matt Tait, and experts from Apple and Facebook over the issue of gaining legal access data in encrypted devices and messages. And committee chairman Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) warned the representatives of the tech companies, "You're gonna find a way to do this or we're going to do it for you."

The hearing, entitled "Encryption and Lawful Access: Evaluating Benefits and Risks to Public Safety and Privacy," was very heavy on the public safety with a few passing words about privacy. Graham said that he appreciated "the fact that people cannot hack into my phone, listen to my phone calls, follow the messages, the texts that I receive. I think all of us want devices that protect our privacy." However, he said, "no American should want a device that is a safe haven for criminality," citing "encrypted apps that child molesters use" as an example.

"When they get a warrant or court order, I want the government to be able to look and find all relevant information," Graham declared. "In American law there is no place that's immune from inquiry if criminality is involved... I'm not about to create a safe haven for criminals where they can plan their misdeeds and store information in a place that law enforcement can never access it."

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Fewer than 10% of Americans are buying $1,000 smartphones, report says

Ars Technica - 4 hours 19 min ago

Enlarge / The Samsung Galaxy Note10. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

We've already seen indications that American consumers are holding on to their smartphones longer than before, posing challenges for companies like Apple and Samsung for whom mobile phone sales are important to the bottom line. A new NPD report reiterates that point but adds that fewer than 10 percent of American smartphone buyers spend more than $1,000, effectively ruling out flagship phones like the iPhone 11 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy Note10 that gather most of the marketer and media attention.

The main point of concern raised by the NPD report, though, is 5G adoption. 5G phones will likely be unaffordable for many consumers at first, with the first wave of mainstream 5G phones in 2020 likely to cost at least $1,000 in most cases. On the other hand, consumer awareness of the imminent rollout of 5G is high, and many consumers cited that coming change as a reason they're holding out on spending big on new phones. It could be that some consumers who can afford $1,000 handsets but haven't made the plunge will do so when 5G arrives, provided that it offers all the benefits marketers have claimed. (That will likely vary quite significantly by city and region, though.)

And speaking of cities and regions, the report also found notable differences in smartphone buying habits across different designated market areas (DMAs). For example, the NPD claims that Americans in major urban centers like New York City or Los Angeles are more likely to spend $1,000 or more on a smartphone. It's unclear from the data whether this is a result of comparatively high average incomes in those areas or other factors.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Heatwaves on multiple continents linked by jet stream tendency

Ars Technica - 4 hours 34 min ago

Enlarge / An example of meandering jet stream winds. (credit: NASA)

Summer 2018 saw some notably extreme weather in multiple locations around the Northern Hemisphere. There were heatwaves in the western United States, Western Europe, the Caspian region through Siberia, and Japan as well. That’s not necessarily interesting on its face, as there’s always weird weather going on somewhere. But this was not a coincidence, as all these events were physically linked by the physics of the jet stream. It's a linkage that could contribute to a crisis for food production.

The Northern Hemisphere jet stream is a band of strong winds that marks a boundary between cold Arctic air and warmer mid-latitude air. As the jet stream slides farther north or south, it brings changes in temperatures with it, via the cold and warm fronts that can bring rain.

The jet stream's path can range form a neat, east-west stripe around the planet to lazy meanders that form serpentine shapes. Large meanders tend to move slowly, setting the stage for extremes like heatwaves (or cold rain in the next meander over). These meanders are affected by the location of continents and oceans, as well as by wind patterns around mountain ranges. Because these locations are fixed, there are some common positions for jet-stream meanders that occur over and over again.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Lawsuit forces CenturyLink to stop charging “Internet Cost Recovery Fee”

Ars Technica - December 11, 2019 - 11:12pm

Enlarge / A CenturyLink repair truck in Estes Park, Colorado, in 2018. (credit: Tony Webster / Flickr)

CenturyLink has agreed to pay a $6.1 million penalty after Washington state regulators found that the company failed to disclose fees that raised actual prices well above the advertised rates. CenturyLink must also stop charging a so-called "Internet Cost Recovery Fee" in the state, although customers may end up paying the fee until their contracts expire unless they take action to switch plans.

"CenturyLink deceived consumers by telling them they would pay one price and then charging them more," Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in an announcement yesterday. "Companies must clearly disclose all added fees and charges to Washingtonians."

Ferguson encouraged Washington residents "who believe they have received bills that include undisclosed fees to file a complaint" with the state.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New YouTube policy tries to ban “implied” threats, “malicious” insults

Ars Technica - December 11, 2019 - 8:58pm

Enlarge / Photoshopped image of YouTube logo behind a barbed-wire fence. (credit: YouTube / Getty / Aurich Lawson)

YouTube has for a long time been used as a platform for bad actors to launch massive campaigns of targeted harassment against individuals. After years of professing an inability to act and reduce such behavior, YouTube is finally updating its policies to reflect the ways bad actors actually tend to behave, and the site is promising to increase consequences against harassers.

Content that "maliciously insults" someone based on their membership in a legally protected class, such as race, gender, or sexual orientation, is now against the rules, YouTube said in a blog post today. "Veiled or implied" threats, of the sort that tend to rile up an online mob to go harass someone, are also now prohibited.

"Something we've heard from our creators is that harassment sometimes takes the shape of a pattern of repeated behavior across multiple videos or comments," YouTube added, catching up to what targets of coordinated online abuse campaigns have been saying for the better part of a decade. As such, the pattern of behavior will now be something the platform takes into account.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

BBC iPlayer stops working on some Samsung TVs

BBC Technology News - December 11, 2019 - 8:02pm
Eleven models are not expected to get a fix until after the Christmas holiday season.

E3 without the lines: System Shock, other games to get 48-hour Steam demos

Ars Technica - December 11, 2019 - 7:45pm

Enlarge (credit: The Game Awards)

In an era when traditional game-preview expos like E3 are languishing, a new contender has emerged with an idea we've been privately requesting from game publishers for years: a game expo that any fan and enthusiast can download and enjoy on their home computer.

Simply titled The Game Festival, this 48-hour event will launch exclusively on Steam tomorrow, Thursday, December 12, as part of the run-up to that evening's broadcast of The Game Awards. Starting at 1pm ET (10am PT) on Thursday, log in to Steam on a Windows PC to access "over a dozen" time-restricted game demos, and these will be available for play for approximately 48 hours. Users will download complete game clients, as opposed to streaming the games from the cloud, and like other time-restricted Steam games, these will require that players remain connected to the Internet to play them during their availability window.

The biggest news, as of press time, is that this slate of demos includes a world-premiere opportunity to play System Shock, the repeatedly delayed "faithful reboot" of the '90s classic. (It's not to be confused with System Shock 3, an entirely new entry in the series still in production and helmed by co-creator Warren Spector.) The full list of announced Game Festival demos is below:

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

12 years later, players somehow keep Team Fortress 2 alive on the PS3

Ars Technica - December 11, 2019 - 6:59pm

Enlarge / Team Fortress 2 on PS3 is the only way to play the "classic" version of the team shooter, without the new guns and features that changed the game drastically.

Team Fortress 2 was Lars Nilsen's favorite game. He's spent hundreds of hours running between rooftops as the scout in 2Fort and dominating points on Dustbowl as a demoman since he picked up the quirky team shooter in 2011.

After playing consistently for five years, Nilsen took a break in 2016 to focus on other things. Still, the class-based charm and powerful combo of the heavy/medic uber-charge eventually convinced him to come back. He booted up the game in April of 2019, hoping to get into the habit of erecting dispensers once again.

There was just one problem, though. He couldn't join a match.

Read 27 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Maze ransomware was behind Pensacola “cyber event,” Florida officials say

Ars Technica - December 11, 2019 - 6:26pm

Enlarge / Pensacola was hit by Maze ransomware, which has apparently stolen data before encrypting it in other cases. (credit: Paul Harris / Getty Images)

An email sent by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to all Florida county commissioners indicated that the ransomware that struck the city of Pensacola on December 7 was the same malware used in an attack against the private security firm Allied Universal, according to a report by the Pensacola News Journal. That malware has been identified elsewhere as Maze, a form of ransomware that has also been distributed via spam email campaigns in Italy.

Bleeping Computer's Lawrence Abrams reported in November that the Maze operators had contacted him after the Allied Universal attack, claiming to have stolen files from the company before encrypting them on the victims' computers. After Allied apparently missed the deadline for payment of the ransom on the files, the ransomware operators published 700 megabytes of files from Allied and demanded 300 Bitcoins (approximately $2.3 million) to decrypt the network. The Maze operators told Abrams that they always steal victims' files to use as further leverage to get them to pay:

It is just a logic. If we disclose it who will believe us? It is not in our interest, it will be silly to disclose as we gain nothing from it. We also delete data because it is not really interesting. We are neither espionage group nor any other type of APT, the data is not interesting for us.

Stealing data as proof of compromise—and to therefore encourage payment by ransomware victims—is rare but not new. The RobbinHood ransomware operator that attacked Baltimore City in May also stole files as part of the attack and posted screenshots of some files—faxed documents sent to Baltimore City Hall's fax server—on a Twitter account to encourage city officials to pay. Baltimore did not pay the ransom.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Verizon lays off more Yahoo/AOL employees after another drop in revenue

Ars Technica - December 11, 2019 - 5:14pm

Enlarge / A monitor seen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

Verizon this week is laying off another 150 staffers from the Verizon Media division that includes the Yahoo and AOL subsidiaries, according to a CNN report.

"Verizon Media employs around 10,500 people, so these cuts will amount to 1.4 percent of its work force. It's unclear which brands will be affected," CNN wrote.

A Verizon spokesperson confirmed the layoffs, according to the CNN article. We contacted Verizon today and will update this article if we get any more information.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

BMW is finally adding Android Auto to its infotainment system

Ars Technica - December 11, 2019 - 4:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Image)

Android owners take note: from next summer, you will finally be able to cast your phone to new BMWs. After much lobbying from customers, the Bavarian automaker has revealed that at last it is going to add Android Auto support to its iDrive 7 infotainment system next year. This follows news last week that the company is also abandoning its controversial decision to charge an annual fee to enable the similar Apple CarPlay feature used to cast iOS devices to a car's infotainment system.

"Many of our customers have pointed out the importance to them of having Android Auto inside a BMW for using a number of familiar Android smartphone features safely without being distracted from the road, in addition to BMW's own functions and services," said Peter Henrich, senior vice president for product management, BMW, in a statement. From July 2020, that will finally be possible, as long as it's a model with the latest iDrive 7 system.

This past summer Google gave us a big update to Android Auto, making it more capable than when it first appeared in 2015. For one thing, you no longer need a USB cable to cast from phone to car, although, currently, wireless support is limited to a select number of Google and Samsung devices. And Android users will be delighted to learn that BMW's integration will allow Android Auto to display stuff on the car's main instrument panel and heads-up display, as well as the infotainment screen on the center console.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

YouTube bans 'malicious insults and veiled threats'

BBC Technology News - December 11, 2019 - 3:01pm
Videos containing insults based on race and sexual orientation will be removed, YouTube says.

Nintendo Switch goes on sale in China with just one first-party game

BBC Technology News - December 11, 2019 - 2:28pm
Super Smash Bros is the only first-party Nintendo title approved for sale in the country.

Internet provider faces big GDPR fine for lax call centre checks

BBC Technology News - December 11, 2019 - 2:05pm
Internet company is accused of only asking for a name and date of birth before sharing personal data.

Can 5G replace everybody’s home broadband?

Ars Technica - December 11, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / Artist's impression of how fast your house might one day be with 5G mobile broadband. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

When it comes to the possibility of home broadband competition, we want to believe. And in the case of 5G mobile broadband, wireless carriers want us to believe, too. But whether or not technological and commercial realities will reward that faith remains unclear. As with 5G smartphones, the basic challenge here sits at the intersection of the electromagnetic spectrum and telecom infrastructure economics.

When delivered over millimeter-wave frequencies and their copious amounts of free spectrum, 5G can match the speed and latency of fiber-optic broadband, with downloads of 1 gigabit per second and ping times under 10 milliseconds. But on those frequencies of 24GHz and up, signals struggle to reach more than a thousand feet outdoors. Carriers can fix that by building many more cell sites, each with its own fiber backhaul, but a fiber-to-the-block build-out may not be appreciably cheaper than fiber-to-the-home deployments. And while residences don't move and don't mind wireless antennas larger than a shirt pocket—unlike individual wireless subscribers—residences also have walls that often block mmWave signals. (Presumably also unlike individual wireless subscribers.)

The other frequency flavors of 5G (the low- and mid-band ones) don't suffer mmWave's allergies to distance or drywall. But they also can't match its speed or its spectrum availability—which in the context of residential broadband means they may not sustain uncapped bandwidth.

Read 45 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Guidemaster: 10 tech gifts to improve the home office

Ars Technica - December 11, 2019 - 1:30pm

Enlarge / It's not easy to please everyone when it comes to gifting. But trust us, everyone could use a password manager. (credit: Tara Moore / Getty Images)

So far, our 2019 holiday gift guide series has covered gifts for those on a budget, gifts for frequent travelers, and gifts for the home. Today, we're turning our attention to the office and general productivity needs.

Below you'll find another hand-picked batch of recommendations based on a year's worth of product testing. These are thoughtful yet pragmatic gifts to help improve your friends' and family's work spaces through technology. From password managers to keyboards to business-friendly laptops, we know firsthand that each of the products below can make productive time less of a slog.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Read 31 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Snapdragon 865 will make phones worse in 2020, thanks to mandatory 5G

Ars Technica - December 11, 2019 - 1:15pm

Enlarge / A more accurately labeled Snapdragon 865. (credit: Qualcomm/Ron Amadeo)

Qualcomm recently took the wraps off its flagship SoC for 2020, the Snapdragon 865. As usual, we can expect this chip in all the high-end Android smartphones in 2020, and it's 25 percent faster than last year, with fancy new camera features and AI-accelerating co-processors. What's unusual is the way Qualcomm designed the LTE modem in the Snapdragon 865: it doesn't have one.

This means nearly every flagship Android phone will be a 5G phone in 2020, and putting the 5G and 4G on a giant extra chip means smartphones are going to use way more power, no matter which cell network you're connected to. When 5G networks are only going to be in their infancy in 2020, this sounds like an across-the-board downgrade to me.

In 2019, 4G had a big power and size advantage over 5G thanks to the all-in-one SoC with an integrated modem solution. In 2020, Qualcomm is so desperate to make 5G a thing that it's making 4G worse.

Read 29 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Mourning the end of the video game rental era

Ars Technica - December 11, 2019 - 12:45pm

Enlarge / This image, like game rentals as a whole, is now a relic of a bygone era.

On Monday, Redbox confirmed to The Verge that it was "permanently transitioning out of the games business." That means Redbox would remove the option to rent physical game discs from its thousands of self-serve kiosks (Redbox game sales will still be available through the end of the year).

For many in the United States, Redbox kiosks had been the only convenient way to rent games ever since rental mega-chain Blockbuster went belly up over the course of a decade (along with most of its smaller brick-and-mortar competition). GameFly still offers a rent-by-mail service, but that service's monthly subscriptions and long postal wait times mean those loans are not much like just going down the street and paying a few bucks to sample a game for a few days.

Redbox's decision to exit the game-rental market, just as the 2010s come to a close, marks a poetic and somewhat anticlimactic end to a practice that has been in a steep decline for well over a decade now. Like using a slide rule or blowing into a Nintendo cartridge, renting physical games is a practice we'll harbor nostalgia for even though it's not necessary anymore (assuming you have good-enough Internet access, that is).

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Most googled questions of 2019 revealed

BBC Technology News - December 11, 2019 - 10:12am
Do you know how to eat a pineapple, who Caitlyn Jenner is or what is Area 51 is?

'World's first' fully-electric commercial flight takes off

BBC Technology News - December 11, 2019 - 5:51am
A fully electric seaplane flight has been hailed by operators as the start of a third "aviation era".

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