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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 33 min 9 sec ago

Apple has rejected iOS version of Steam Link app, Valve says

6 hours 28 min ago

Enlarge / A screenshot from the beta version of the Steam Link app, which has been denied approval by Apple. (credit: Steam)

Valve says Apple has denied approval for the iOS version of its Steam Link app—which allows users to stream PC games from a computer on the same home network—after Apple initially approved the app earlier this month.

"On Monday, May 7, Apple approved the Steam Link app for release," Valve said in a statement sent to Ars. "On Wednesday, May 9, Valve released news of the app. The following morning, Apple revoked its approval citing business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team."

Valve says it appealed that decision on the basis that "the Steam Link app simply functions as a LAN-based remote desktop similar to numerous remote desktop applications already available on the App Store." That includes an official Windows Remote Desktop app from Microsoft, third-party apps from LogMeIn and GoToMyPC, and many more. There are even streaming apps for iOS which use Nvidia's GameStream technology to remotely play titles running on a PC, just like the Steam Link app.

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Gamers involved in December’s “swatting” death just got indicted

May 24, 2018 - 10:20pm

Enlarge / This screenshot from local television station KWCH Channel 12 shows Barriss at a recent court appearance. (credit: KWCH Channel 12)

Federal prosecutors have unsealed an indictment against three men involved in the December death of a Kansas man, Andrew Finch. Finch was shot by police officers after one of the defendants, Tyler Barriss, made a call to 911 dispatchers about a completely made-up hostage situation at Finch's address.

County prosecutors in Kansas have already charged Barriss with manslaughter. Now he faces a slew of additional charges at the federal level, including cyberstalking, making threats across state lines, wire fraud, and conspiracy. And while the county charges targeted Barriss alone, the feds are also charging two others involved in the incident.

According to the indictment, Shane Gaskill, 19, and Casey Viner, 18, were playing Call of Duty: World War II on December 28, when they got into a dispute over events in the game. Viner became so upset that he asked Barriss—who had a reputation for making SWAT calls—to "swat" Gaskill.

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The DoJ is reportedly probing the murky world of bitcoin trading

May 24, 2018 - 9:38pm

Enlarge / A 12-month snapshot of bitcoin prices. (credit:

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have taken a wild ride over the past 18 months. Now, according to Bloomberg News, the US Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into whether price manipulations have contributed to the meteoric rises and crushing falls.

The coins prosecutors are examining include bitcoin and ether, which have both bounced up and down over the past 18 months. In 2017, after bitcoin began the year with a price of about $1,000, it soared to just below $20,000 in December and then finished out the year at about $13,900. Ether followed an even steeper trajectory, beginning 2017 at about $8 and finishing at about $747. Prices for both currencies have experienced major volatility over the past six months.

Spoofing and wash trades

The DoJ probe is focused on whether those price swings were caused by illegal trading practices that have long manipulated securities prices in more traditional markets, Bloomberg reported, citing four people familiar with the probe. One of the practices is known as spoofing. That's when a trader floods an exchange with orders and then cancels them once the market price has moved in the desired direction. Another practice, known as wash trades, occurs when people transact trades with themselves to give the market a false impression of demand.

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Dealmaster: Memorial Day sales on TVs, laptops, and more are underway

May 24, 2018 - 9:25pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. It's almost Memorial Day weekend, and though the Dealmaster plans to spend plenty of time this weekend grilling and lounging outside, he's also making time to ignore his family and keep you posted on good deals.

While most Memorial Day sales traditionally focus on appliances, mattresses, and other home goods—and while it's worth holding off on deals for things like MacBooks and Amazon devices with the likes of WWDC and Amazon Prime Day just around the corner—there's at least a handful of gadget deals worth noting for those who can't wait until Black Friday.

We've rounded up a few of them below, including laptop discounts from the likes of Dell, Lenovo, and Microsoft; a variety of TV deals; and more. There are plenty of non-holiday-specific discounts as well. We're expecting to see more deals arise as we get closer to Memorial Day itself, so we'll be sure to update this post over the next few days if anything good comes up.

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Comcast may soon control what you pay to watch your favorite sports teams

May 24, 2018 - 9:11pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Comcast's planned purchase of 21st Century Fox properties would give the cable company ownership of the "vast majority" of regional sports networks [RSNs] in the US, a trade group that opposes the potential merger pointed out yesterday.

Comcast already uses its ownership of NBCUniversal and NBC-branded RSNs to raise prices on TV watchers who subscribe to other cable companies, the American Cable Association (ACA) said.

"If Fox agrees to sell to Comcast, these problems get only worse because the combined company would own the vast majority of regional sports networks across the country and increase its roster of popular national programming networks," the ACA said. The ACA represents nearly 800 small- and medium-sized cable operators.

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Samsung might save Android smartwatches from irrelevance

May 24, 2018 - 8:00pm

Enlarge / The Samsung Gear S3. (credit: Samsung)

Today, Google's Android-based smartwatch platform—Wear OS—seems like it's at a dead end. It's currently third in the smartwatch market, after the Apple Watch and Samsung's Tizen-based "Gear S" watches. On the software side of things, Google hasn't been iterating on Wear OS quickly enough. The last major update—Wear 2.0—was roughly 18 months ago, and Google I/O 2018 came and went without a peep about a new update. On the hardware side of things, Wear OS hardware is awful. The market's biggest SoC vendor, Qualcomm, has shown it isn't really interested in the smartwatch market and only offers a slow, hot, old smartwatch SoC based on manufacturing technology from 2013.

Wear OS might soon have a savior though, at least when it comes to hardware. Venerable smartphone leaker Evan Blass claims Samsung employees are sporting Samsung smartwatches running "not Tizen, but Wear OS." Samsung might be coming to save Wear OS.

Samsung’s superior hardware

Qualcomm isn't investing in smart watches, and with a near monopoly on the SoC market, anyone beholden to Qualcomm's lineup is not going to be able to produce a competitive smartwatch. Most of the usual Android OEMs are aligned with Android Wear, but with no new smartwatch chips, they all mostly stopped making new smartwatches. It just so happens that the two smartwatch market leaders, Apple and Samsung, aren't beholden to Qualcomm—they have their own chip-design facilities, and they regularly update their smartwatches with new SoCs using state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies.

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Amazon confirms that Echo device secretly shared user’s private audio [Updated]

May 24, 2018 - 6:57pm

Enlarge (credit: Jeff Dunn)

Amazon confirmed an Echo owner's privacy-sensitive allegation on Thursday, after Seattle CBS affiliate KIRO-7 reported that an Echo device in Oregon sent private audio to someone on a user's contact list without permission.

"Unplug your Alexa devices right now," the user, Danielle (no last name given), was told by her husband's colleague in Seattle after he received full audio recordings between her and her husband, according to the KIRO-7 report. The disturbed owner, who is shown in the report juggling four unplugged Echo Dot devices, said that the colleague then sent the offending audio to Danielle and her husband to confirm the paranoid-sounding allegation. (Before sending the audio, the colleague confirmed that the couple had been talking about hardwood floors.)

After calling Amazon customer service, Danielle said she received the following explanation and response: "'Our engineers went through all of your logs. They saw exactly what you told us, exactly what you said happened, and we're sorry.' He apologized like 15 times in a matter of 30 minutes. 'This is something we need to fix.'"

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White House policy seeks fewer lawyers, more engineers at space companies

May 24, 2018 - 6:40pm

Enlarge / United Launch Alliance president and CEO Tory Bruno leads a tour in Cape Canaveral, Fla., for Vice President Mike Pence, his wife, Karen Pence, and then-NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot on Feb. 20, 2018. (credit: NASA)

As the White House seeks to smooth the way for commercial spaceflight, President Trump will sign a new space policy directive on Thursday afternoon. The new policy directs US departments and agencies to implement several reforms to ease the regulatory system for launch licensing, remote sensing, and more.

"This builds on Space Policy Directive 1, to reorient the human spaceflight program back toward the Moon using commercial partners," Scott Pace said Thursday.

The new directive formalizes recommendations made in February at the second meeting of the National Space Council to reform the regulatory environment. In short, the White House wants to cut paperwork for commercial companies launching rockets and flying satellites in Earth orbit. As one official told Ars, the White House would like these companies to be able to hire more engineers and fewer lawyers.

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America, your offshore wind is coming: 1.2GW in contracts awarded

May 24, 2018 - 6:27pm

European offshore wind farms have made big US projects possible.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island both awarded major offshore wind contracts on Wednesday, underscoring the increasing economic viability of a kind of renewable energy that has been long considered too expensive.

The Massachusetts installation will have a capacity of 800MW. Situated 14 miles off Martha's Vineyard, the wind farm will be called "Vineyard Wind," and it has an accelerated timetable: it's due to start sending electricity back to the grid as soon as 2021. According to Greentech Media, the contract was won by Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, both companies with headquarters in Europe. The two share 50/50 ownership of the project and beat Deepwater Wind and Bay State Wind in the bidding.

Massachusetts recently approved an ambitious goal to build 1.6GW of wind energy capacity off its coast by 2027. This new contract gets the state half of the way there. According to a press release from Vineyard Wind, the owners of the project will now begin negotiations for transmission services and power purchase agreements. The press release added that the project "will reduce Massachusetts’ carbon emissions by over 1.6 million tons per year, the equivalent of removing 325,000 cars from state roads."

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Researchers identify a protein that viruses use as gateway into cells

May 24, 2018 - 5:57pm

Enlarge / An electron micrograph of multiple copies of the chikungunya virus. (credit: CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith)

The word “chikungunya” (chik-en-gun-ye) comes from Kimakonde, the language spoken by the Makonde people in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique. It means “to become contorted,” because that’s what happens to people who get infected. The contortion is a result of severe and debilitating joint pain. Chikungunya was first identified in Tanzania in 1952, but by now cases have been reported around the globe. There is no cure; the CDC recommends that “travelers can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites.”

Chikungunya is only one of a family of viruses transmitted through mosquitoes for which we have no targeted treatment. This may partially be due to the fact that we didn’t know how they get into our cells. But for chikungunya, we've just found one of the proteins responsible.

Identification via deletion

Researchers used the CRISPR-Cas9 DNA editing system to delete more than twenty-thousand mouse genes—a different one in each cell in a dish. Then they added chikungunya to the dish, isolated the cells that didn’t get infected, and looked to see which gene they lacked. This gene would encode a protein required for viral infection, since infection didn’t happen in its absence.

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Nintendo starts selling cheaper, dock-free Switch, but only in Japan

May 24, 2018 - 4:49pm

Enlarge / The 2nd Switch comes with everything you see here! Your parents help set it up! Batteries included, from NINTENDO! (credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo fans in Japan now have the option of buying a cheaper Switch package that doesn't include the accessories needed to connect the system to a TV. Marketed as a "2nd unit" Switch in a Google translated announcement, the new Switch package costs ¥24,980 (about $229), down from the ¥29,980 ($275) for the standard package.

For that lower price, Japanese consumers will miss out on the Switch dock, HDMI cable, and wall-outlet charger that come bundled in the standard package. The system itself can be charged by any number of standard USB-C accessories, though users should be careful of USB standards. If "Second Switch" buyers want to hook the Switch to a TV later on, they can use the same dock that came in the standard Switch package, purchase one à la carte from Nintendo, or use one of a number of cheaper third-party Switch dock options (which can vary widely in reliability).

Back in February, Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto said the company's "ultimate ambition is for a Nintendo Switch to be owned not just by every family, but by every single person." This package seems to be an explicit effort to help that process along by making it easier to set up a multi-Switch household with only a single TV dock.

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Edge is still the most efficient Windows browser, but Chrome is getting close

May 24, 2018 - 4:43pm

Microsoft's battery life comparison video.

One of the big advantages that Microsoft has been promoting for its Edge browser is that it's more battery efficient than both Chrome and Firefox. My own anecdotal experience bears this out; although I use Chrome for most browsing, I've found it burns battery faster than Edge under similar workloads. Whenever I'm mobile, I switch to Microsoft's browser over Google's.

Microsoft's own figures use a video-playback benchmark, and the company has duly released a new comparison for the Windows 10 April 2018 Update, version 1803. Edge still comes out ahead—it lasts 98 percent longer than Mozilla Firefox, and 14 percent longer than Google Chrome—but it's striking that the gap with Chrome has narrowed.

In January, using Windows 10 version 1709, Microsoft's browser resulted in the battery lasting 19 percent longer than Google's. In April last year, using Windows 10 version 1703, the Microsoft advantage was 35 percent. And in June 2016, Edge lasted a whopping 70 percent longer than Chrome.

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NTSB: Uber’s sensors worked; its software utterly failed in fatal crash

May 24, 2018 - 4:10pm

Enlarge / An Uber self-driving car in San Francisco in 2017. (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report on the fatal March crash of an Uber self-driving car in Tempe, Arizona. It paints a damning picture of Uber's self-driving technology.

The report confirms that the sensors on the vehicle worked as expected, spotting pedestrian Elaine Herzberg about six seconds prior to impact, which should have given it enough time to stop given the car's 43mph speed.

The problem was that Uber's software became confused, according to the NTSB. "As the vehicle and pedestrian paths converged, the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path," the report says.

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YouTube Music will replace Google Play Music but won’t kill user uploads

May 24, 2018 - 4:07pm

Enlarge / The home screen of the revamped YouTube Music app, running on an iPad. (credit: Jeff Dunn)

Google has confirmed that its revamped YouTube Music streaming service will eventually support key features of its Google Play Music app, including the ability for users to upload music files that may not exist in the service’s streaming catalog.

Google announced an overhaul for YouTube Music last week alongside a price bump for its YouTube Red service. It then began a “soft” rollout of the app for select users on Tuesday.

But the announcement of a revamped YouTube Music app has caused some confusion among those who subscribe to Google Play Music, a streaming music service Google launched in 2011 but has struggled to attract subscribers on the level of category leaders Spotify and Apple Music.

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Uber wants to test driverless cars in Pittsburgh again—the mayor is pissed

May 24, 2018 - 2:30pm

Enlarge / Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. (credit: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images)

Uber announced on Wednesday that it was permanently shutting down self-driving car testing in Arizona, laying off hundreds of workers in the state. The decision comes two months after an Uber self-driving car killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in Tempe. But the company insisted that it wasn't shutting down its self-driving car program as a whole. In an internal email obtained by Ars Technica, Uber said that it had a "goal of resuming operations in Pittsburgh this summer."

Hours later, Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto released a press release blasting the plan. "Uber did not tell me of today's announcement, and I was forced to learn about it through social media reports," the mayor wrote. "This is not the way to rebuild a constructive working relationship with local government, especially when facing a public safety matter."

It's not clear if Peduto has the legal power to block Uber's return to Pittsburgh. But the mayor could certainly make Uber's life miserable if they decided to return to the city over Peduto's objections.

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Acer’s Chromebook Spin 13 tempts professionals to use Chrome OS at work

May 24, 2018 - 2:01pm

Valentina Palladino

Acer has a long history with Chrome OS devices that it continues to propel forward with devices like the Chromebook Tab 10. Chromebooks have found a comfortable home in schools and kids' rooms, but many are convinced that Chrome OS can be a viable platform for professionals as it continues to evolve. Acer unveiled a Chromebook for such professionals, the Chromebook Spin 13, that looks and feels like it could hold its own next to some high-end ultrabooks.

Both design and internals set the Chromebook Spin 13 apart from other Chrome OS devices, even those already made by Acer. The new 2-in-1 has an all-metal chassis with diamond-cut edges, giving it more substantial feel when you lift it compared to the plastic Chromebooks we're all used to. The polished hinges on the Spin 13 smoothly facilitate the transition between laptop, tent, presentation, and tablet modes, and the device feels sturdy no matter how it's positioned.

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Detroit: Become Human review: Robotic in all of the wrong ways

May 24, 2018 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / You can practically hear the dramatic music swelling in this screenshot, can't you?

For a game so focused on presenting a seamless interactive cinematic story, the most striking thing about Detroit: Become Human is its exposed seams.

Like the world’s most slickly produced choose-your-own-adventure book, the latest David Cage game lets you play with narrative conventions and mess with the inherent connective tissue of the story in some intriguing ways. But that underlying story ends up so fragmented, so poorly executed, and so clunkily written that it’s very difficult to appreciate the narrative playspace.

An unbelievable future

The year is 2038, and the city of Detroit is the center of a new manufacturing renaissance thanks to the creation of believable intelligent human-shaped androids. The world has been transformed by the existence of subservient machines that can do anything a human can do and more.

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Solo film review: Best when it embraces its favorite action-movie urges

May 24, 2018 - 12:30pm

Enlarge / Oh, Alden, you beautiful fool, what have you gotten yourself into? (credit: Lucasfilm)

Warning: This piece contains some minor spoilers for Solo.

Solo, Lucasfilm's latest addition to the canon, in no way represents a standard Star Wars film. Viewers will encounter zero mythos involving Jedis and The Force. The film doesn’t grapple with massive allegorical topics, either. Destiny does not face off against free will, while franchise flagships like democracy-vs.-dictatorship and the tragedies of war merit muted mentions at best.

Of course, pushback started before anyone had even seen the thing to know that, with near-instant cries for a standalone Lando film or a smaller, original story impacted by the larger global (galactic?) situation (something like Prospect, for instance) instead. What ultimately made it to screen likely won’t change those desires. In fact, hardcore fans may also walk away from Solo thinking more about why this film exists or what went into specific decisions rather than the core story itself.

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Apple, VW sign driverless car deal for Apple campus shuttles, NY Times sources say

May 24, 2018 - 4:09am

Enlarge / A T9 Transporter van like this could soon shuttle Apple employees. (credit: Volkswagen)

The New York Times reported this evening that Apple entered into a partnership with Volkswagen Group to pair a number of electric T6 Transporter vans with Apple's proprietary autonomous vehicle software. The vans will reportedly be used to shuttle employees around Apple's company campus, and it's not clear whether the deal will extend from there.

The Times says that this deal only comes after Apple tried to find a partner in BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The company has shed hundreds of employees on the project, in a department that once boasted about 1,000 workers.

According to the Times' sources—"five people familiar with the negotiations who asked not to be identified because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly"—BMW and Mercedes-Benz rejected a partnership with Apple due to requirements from the Cupertino-based firm to turn over all data and some design aspects of the car.

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FBI seizes domain Russia allegedly used to infect 500,000 consumer routers

May 24, 2018 - 2:26am

Enlarge (credit: Wikipedia)

The FBI has seized a key domain used to infect more than 500,000 home and small-office routers in a move that significantly frustrates a months-long attack that agents say was carried out by the Russian government, The Daily Beast reported late Wednesday.

The takedown stems from an investigation that started no later than last August and culminated in a court order issued Wednesday directing domain registrar Verisign to turn over control of An FBI affidavit obtained by The Daily Beast said the hacking group behind the attacks is known as Sofacy. The group—which is also known as Fancy Bear, Sednit, and Pawn Storm—is credited with a long list of attacks over the years, including the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee.

As Ars reported earlier Wednesday, Cisco researchers said the malware that infected more than 500,000 routers in 54 countries was developed by an advanced nation and implied Russia was responsible, but the researchers didn’t definitively name the country.

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