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Making a living scamming the scammers

July 30, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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“Well, my grandchildren were over and it’s something about a pornography virus,” says the soft voice of an elderly woman over the phone. “I unplugged my computer right away,” she continues, and after she explains her worries in a little more detail, a female voice on the other end of the line replies, “That’s all right. Don’t worry, let me assist you with this. And may I know, is that a desktop or a laptop?” The PC has apparently been hacked, as confirmed by allowing the support team remote access, but resolving this comes at a cost. Nearly two hours and 20 minutes — and several transfers between call center staff — later, Kitboga drops the vulnerable-old-lady act.

“Can I be honest with you a second. I’m not actually a grandma,” Kitboga says as he turns off his speech manipulator and begins talking in his normal, male voice. “I’m probably your age,” he admits to the woman currently on the call, “and I’ve known the whole time that this was a scam. And the lengths that you went through to try to take advantage of her are … it breaks my heart.” By “her,” of course, he’s talking about the elderly woman the call center workers think they’ve been passing around. “I’m angry, but I’m trying really hard to just be honest and nice with you,” he says. A few words into the next sentence, the scammer hangs up. And to think, 40 minutes earlier they were singing Sia’s song “Cheap Thrills” to each other over the phone.

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Scams come in many forms. Sometimes it’s a cold caller claiming to be a government employee. You owe the IRS money for unpaid taxes, they say, and will face criminal charges if you don’t pay immediately. Another, relatively new confidence trick preys on the allure of cheaper airfare. (For the record, a legitimate American Airlines agent won’t accept Google Play or Steam credit as payment.) Tech support scams are one of the easiest to stumble across. A pop-up will scare you into believing your computer has been hacked or infected, and provide a number for a Microsoft technical support center. There is no virus, of course, and the person on the other end of the line has no Microsoft affiliation. They will fix the entirely fabricated problem with your computer, though, for a fee.

It’s impossible to know exactly how much money tech support scams bring in. Microsoft estimated in 2015 that in America alone, 3.3 million people would be defrauded that year, to the tune of $1.5 billion. This April, the company said it had received 153,000 reports worldwide regarding support scams in 2017, up 24 percent from the previous year. Victims of these scams weren’t taken for insignificant amounts, either, often paying between $200 and $400 to peace-of-mind peddlers. You may think the call centers, the vast majority of which operate from India, prey primarily on elderly

Tech News

The best desktops for students

July 30, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

For some of you, picking up a MacBook like the rest of your peers just won’t do. If you’re willing to trade portability for power, desktop computers are the way to go. Since it’s probably the biggest-ticket item you’ll buy for your apartment throughout college, it’s important to choose the right one for your needs (and budget). This goes double for those of you spending a little more on a machine that will get you through graduate studies and beyond.

Our 2018 back-to-school guide includes six desktop machines, each with their own perks and quirks. People without much desk space will want to compare Dell’s 27-inch Inspiron 7000 all-in-one with this year’s iMac. With eSports on the rise, some of you might want to kit out your dorm with an HP Omen — or, if you’re serious about your gaming, go straight for the Alienware Area-51.

If this sounds a bit like Goldilocks finding the right bed, it should: You’ll be spending quite a bit of time in front of your desktop, but our suggestions should cover almost any task or game you’ll need to tackle. Find all that in more in our full guide and while you’re there, check out the other 13 categories we covered.

Check out our complete 2018 back-to-school guide and find all of our student-friendly buying advice right here!

Tech News

Fox AI predicts a movie's audience based on its trailer

July 29, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Modern movie trailers are already cynical exercises in attention grabbing (such as the social media-friendly burst of imagery at the start of many clips), but they might be even more calculated in the future. Researchers at 20th Century Fox have produced a deep learning system that can predict who will be most likely to watch a movie based on its trailer. Thanks to training that linked hundreds of trailers to movie attendance records, the AI can draw a connection between visual elements in trailers (such as colors, faces, landscapes and lighting) and the performance of a film for certain demographics. A trailer with plenty of talking heads and warm colors may appeal to a different group than one with lots of bold colors and sweeping vistas.

Notably, the deep learning approach already appears to work in real world conditions. While Fox did use existing movies as a benchmark, it also had success anticipating the performance of future movies. Sure enough, the visual cues in a brand new movie trailer gave an idea as to what attendance would be like several months later.

There are flaws in this method. It doesn’t capture temporal info (Fox uses an explosion after a car chase as an example), and it would ideally combine both the video and text descriptions to get a fuller sense of the story.

However, Fox isn’t shy about the practical applications. The AI could help studios craft trailers they know will appeal to a movie’s intended audience, whether they’re casual moviegoers who stick to the blockbusters or aficionados who want something off the beaten path. You might well see trailers that play up specific imagery to increase the chances that you’ll buy tickets. And that’s important in the streaming era, where movie theaters have to compete for viewers who could easily stay home and watch something on Amazon or Netflix.

Tech News

'Fortnite' will bring back guided missiles in a softer, gentler form

July 28, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Fortnite‘s guided missile certainly had its moments, but Epic dropped it with an April patch for a reason — it was so powerful (and ammo so plentiful) that you could make life a living hell for anyone who wasn’t an immediate threat. Flash forward a few months and Epic is ready to bring the weapon back… albeit not as you knew it. Epic has revealed in a developer update,that the guided missile will come back to battle royale mode, but that it’s now meant as more of a “scouting tool” than a game-deciding weapon.

Simply put, Epic has nerfed the missile in most respects. It’s slower (both in speed and turning), deals out less damage and offers a smaller ammo cap. If you were to use this for an attack, you’d most likely fire off a round or two to soften your target or take out a flimsy defensive structure. Before, you could fire a seemingly endless stream and make it difficult for anyone to offer a response.

The company didn’t say specifically when the guided missile would come back. Between this and the toned-down Compact SMG, though, it’s evident that Epic wants to eliminate some of the rough edges in Fortnite. As fun as it may be to wield overpowered weapons, they can easily sour the experience for virtually everyone else.

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Tech News

The first ‘blockchain baby’ is here

July 27, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

When you read the news that they put a baby on the blockchain, your reaction makes you one of two types of people. Either you think, Mon dieu, is there anything the magical fairy dust known as blockchain can’t solve? Or you think: Surely this is child abuse.

For the past few years, techies have frothed and proselytized over the potential salvation of blockchain, the tech behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. So it’s hard to even know what babies and blockchain could even have to do with each other. Typically, outside of grifter circles, blockchain is associated with vaporware, shady fraudulent ICO’s, or solving things that aren’t suited at all for blockchain’s “distributed ledger” system. Oh, and largely solving things that aren’t even problems.

Rather than try and part the foolish with their actual money, for once the crypto craze might be doing some useful good — which is how a baby ended up on the blockchain. In this instance, the international organization AID:Tech is using the technology as a way to get charitable donations to their destinations: as in, getting soon-to-be moms in need funds for things like vitamins and medical care.

Of course, we think, why not just give it to already-established care orgs — why make a whole blockchain mess out of it? This is an extremely reasonable question, seldom asked in the presence of crypto-critters. AID:Tech is a medical aid project positioned to combat the huge problem of fraud in the world of charitable donations, and to help at-risk women with their medical information. And on July 13th, a baby was added to a blockchain ledger (a first). This was followed by two more births on the 19th.

The idea of grafting blockchain to charity was to prevent fraud — which seems ironic given cryptocurrency’s reputation. Founder Joseph Thompson told CIO in a March interview:

In 2009, I ran 151 miles in the Sahra Desert as part of the tough world marathon, the 6-day Marathon des Sables. For the race, I raised over $120k for a charity I trusted. But the funds did not go where they were intended to.

With this experience, I became a cynic and decided never to donate again. But I always wanted to solve this problem. In 2010, I then saw the potential of Blockchain for traceability, and then the United Nations included this goal as part of the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals].

And so, in December 2015, hundreds of Syrian refugees at a camp in Lebanon took part in AID:Tech’s pilot program. The org partnered with the Irish Red Cross to give 500 digital credit cards to the refugees for use in a supermarket, each pre-loaded with $20 — in total, $10K was distributed to 100 Syrian refugee families.

“A traditional paper voucher system was simultaneously in place. These are problematic because fraudulent copies inevitably emerge,” wrote Irish Times. “Within a matter of hours, the same thing was

Tech News

The best laptops for students

July 27, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

There’s no way around it: You’re bringing a computer to school, and unless you’re a serious gamer or in training for some sort of creative field, you’re probably looking at a new laptop. The Dell XPS 13 continues to be one of the best Windows laptops your money can buy — it looks good, has an almost bezel-less display, a comfortable keyboard and, most importantly, it’s lightweight and portable. Microsoft’s Surface Laptop is another well-built and all-around good choice if you can live with Windows 10 S, the company’s stripped-down OS designed largely with schools in mind.

If you’d rather get a gaming rig or if you need something powerful enough for photo and video editing, consider the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin: It’s one of the lightest gaming laptops we’ve ever seen, and it gets bonus points for mustering decent battery life. Dell’s G3 15 is another gaming laptop that can edit media — it’s an entry-level model that’s not as powerful as the GS65, but it also costs $1,000 less.

In case you can’t spare more than $500, the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 might be one of your best options. While Chrome OS is limited compared to a full-fledged platform, you can make up for its shortcoming by installing apps from Google Play. And of course, our list won’t be complete without a MacBook Pro for those more at home with macOS. We recommend skipping the Touch Bar and getting the 13-inch model without one for hundreds less, though keep in mind it doesn’t pack the same new processors as the Touch Bar configurations.

Find all our picks in our 2018 back-to-school guide and while you’re there, find 100-some odd picks in 13 other categories.

Check out our complete 2018 back-to-school guide and find all of our student-friendly buying advice right here!

Tech News

Amazon records another huge quarter thanks to Alexa and the cloud

July 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Amazon’s been under quite a bit of stress recently, as it deals with fallout from its facial recognition tech, ongoing privacy concerns with its Echo hardware and its Prime Day not going as well as intended. But with so many businesses under its umbrella, Amazon still raked in plenty of dough to keep the company going. According to its second quarterly report for 2018, Amazon’s net sales increased by 39 percent to $52.9 billion compared to this time last year, which translates to an overall net income of $2.5 billion in just the past few months.

This includes sales from advertising, its own hardware products, the Prime Video service, plus sales from Whole Foods stores across the nation. Amazon doesn’t typically break out sales by category, but it does seem like the company has been pushing hard on the Alexa side of things in the past few months. CEO Jeff Bezos’ statement, reflects this:

“We want customers to be able to use Alexa wherever they are,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “There are now tens of thousands of developers across more than 150 countries building new devices using the Alexa Voice Service, and the number of Alexa-enabled devices has more than tripled in the past year. Our partners are creating a wide variety of new Alexa-enabled devices and experiences, including soundbars from Polk and Sonos; headphones from Jabra; smart home devices from ecobee and First Alert; Windows 10 PCs from Acer, HP, and Lenovo; and cars from automakers including BMW, Ford, and Toyota.”

The latter point is especially interesting, as it shows the company is not just relying on its own Echo hardware to spread the word of Alexa. By integrating Amazon’s personal assistant into a wide range of products, the company is betting on the ubiquity of Alexa to sustain its already-strong ecosystem, which will hopefully stave off any competition from the likes of Google.

In the lengthy Highlights section in the latest earnings report, the company called out several announcements in the past few months, such as the Fire TV Cube streaming set top box and the next generation of Fire TV smart televisions that will be available on Best Buy as well as Amazon. Also notable is that despite the aforementioned Prime Day glitch, the company says it recorded the most single-day sign-ups for its Prime service than on any other day in Amazon history. This is even despite the higher $119 annual price for Prime. That said, the second quarterly earnings report does not include any Prime Day sales figures.

As always, Amazon’s Web Services is a big contributor to the company’s bottom line as well. This past quarter, the company added more enterprise AWS customers to its list. They include Ryanair, Epic Games, zulily, 21st Century Fox, and Major League Baseball.

We’ll update this post further details

Tech News

Bipartisan bill aims to study how tech is affecting kids

July 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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A bipartisan group of senators and representatives has introduced legislation that would fund research into the effects technology and media have on infants, children and adolescents. The funding would support research into the use of mobile devices, computers, social media, apps, websites, TV, films, AI, video games, VR and AR with a focus on cognitive, physical and socio-emotional development.

“While technology educates and entertains our children every day, we need a better understanding of how it impacts their social, psychological and physical well-being,” Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) said in a statement. “This bill will enable experts to conduct critical research that will inform parents and policymakers about how best to protect American children’s bodies and minds from issues such as tech addiction, bullying and depression in the digital age.”

The lawmakers who introduced the bill include Senators Markey, Ben Sasse (R-NE), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Susan Collins (R-ME) as well as Representatives John Delaney (D-MD) and Ted Budd (R-NC). “Children are increasingly using digital devices in their everyday lives, but little is known about the impact technology has on their health and development,” said Senator Blunt. “Advancing research to better understand the impact of technology will help parents create a healthy environment for their children to learn and grow.”

The move comes as a number of tech companies are introducing both more rigorous parental controls and more options for users to manage or limit the time they spend on the internet or using apps. Apple demonstrated its digital wellness features during WWDC in June as did Google during its I/O conference in May.

Additionally, while Facebook is toying with a “do not disturb” feature, it’s also facing pushback over its Messenger Kids app. The messaging app, which is geared towards children younger than 13 years old, has been hit with criticism from those concerned about exposing young kids to social media. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood wrote Facebook a letter earlier this year urging the company to disable the app. “A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development,” the group wrote.

The bill authorizes $15 million for research, led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), each year from 2019 through 2021 as well as $25 million each for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. “Internet companies care deeply about the safety and well-being of their users and welcome scientific research on this important issue funded through the CAMRA Act,” Melika Carroll, head of global government affairs at the Internet Association, said in a statement. “Existing research lacks the rigor, quality and independence of an NIH study into this important topic.”

Other groups reportedly endorsing the bill include Facebook, Common Sense Media, the

Tech News

Windows 10 test feature can predict the best time for an update

July 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Windows’ forced automatic updates are probably the most hated aspect of the operating system. They can pop up when you’re working against the clock, in the middle of presentations or while you’re doing other crucial tasks. While it sucks that the problem exists in the first place, Microsoft is at least trying to fix the issue. The latest Windows 10 Insider Preview, for instance, will come with the ability to predict the best time to update your computer. According to Microsoft, it used a machine learning technique to train a predictive model to be able to tell when to roll out an update and when to hold off.

The feature will be able to check if you had just switched on your device before it makes an attempt at restarting your PC. It will also try to predict whether you just stood up for a bit, perhaps to get a coffee or to pop out for a quick toilet break, preventing the computer from starting the update process when you intend to sit back down after just a minute or two.

Microsoft says it’s been testing the feature on the company’s computers and has been seeing positive results. But in case you still come across a forced update after installing the preview, you can file a report to let the tech giant know that it needs to continue working on the model so it can finally spare all Windows users the headache. Last year, Microsoft released a Windows 10 fix that allows you to snooze updates for three days or to choose a specific date for it, but it’s clearly not enough to get rid of the issue.

In addition to the experimental model, the latest Insider Preview also comes with Unicode 11’s 157 new emoji, including superhero graphics, a cute llama and an adorable trash panda.

Tech News

Lenovo Smart Display: A worthy rival to the Echo Show

July 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Smart Display Get more info More Scores Engadget Not yet scored   Critic Not yet scored   Users Not yet scored   Key Specs Screen resolution  X

Amazon may have pioneered the smart-speaker movement, but Google isn’t far behind. A year after Amazon debuted the first Echo, Google followed in its footsteps with the Home. The company copied Amazon yet again with the Home Mini, which is its version of the Echo Dot. Last year, Amazon revealed the Echo Show — an smart speaker with a display. And, sure enough, earlier this year, Google announced that it, too, was getting into the smart-display category.

Gallery: Lenovo Smart Display review | 30 Photos 30 +26 Engadget Score Poor Uninspiring Good Excellent Key Lenovo Smart Display 86 Pros Stylish design Gorgeous display Great sound quality Integrates with many Google apps and services The only smart display on the market with YouTube Cons Not as functional as a tablet in some areas Don’t have full access to YouTube subscriptions Summary

Lenovo’s Google-powered Smart Display is a worthy Amazon Echo Show rival. Not only does it sport a stylish design along with a stunning display and superb speakers, it’s also a great showcase for all of the extra functionality and features that Google brings to the table.

This time, Google isn’t making the hardware itself — at least not yet. Much like its Android ecosystem, the company is partnering with several hardware manufacturers to release a line of different Google-powered smart displays.

The first to do so is Lenovo with its Smart Display, and it sets the bar high. Priced at $200 for the 8-inch model and $250 for the 10-inch, it’s stylish, the display is stunning and the audio quality is stellar. After several days with it, I can safely say that Lenovo’s Smart Display — and Google’s line of smart displays in general — pose a bona fide threat to Amazon’s Echo line.

As much as we liked Amazon’s Echo Show, we weren’t fond of its design. The Lenovo Smart Display, on the other hand, is a thing of beauty. Clad in a white shell, it looks like a fancy tablet stand, with