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Tech News

Google reportedly offered Android changes to EU in 2017

July 22, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The European Union may have characterized its $5 billion Android antitrust fine as punishment for an intransigent Google, but the practical reality might be different. Bloomberg sources have claimed that Google offered to make changes to its Android policies in August 2017, not long after it received an EU antitrust penalty for its product search practices. Although Google didn’t dive into specifics, it had offered to “loosen restrictions” in Android contracts and had considered distributing its apps in “two different ways.”

The EU wasn’t having it, according to the sources. Officials reportedly said only that a settlement was “no longer an option,” and that Google’s offer was “too little too late.” It couldn’t even mention the possibility of paying a fine as part of an agreement — regulators had effectively locked in their course of action. Google had tried to talk about ending the probe considerably earlier than that, according to the tipsters, but regulators supposedly either stonewalled or said it was too early to negotiate. If so, there may have only been a brief window of opportunity for a truce.

The revelations, if accurate, ultimately leave Google in the same boat: it’s now facing a giant fine and significant changes to its mobile strategy if its appeal doesn’t succeed. They do suggest that the penalty wasn’t inevitable, though, and that Google might well have implemented Russia-style changes months sooner if the EU had wanted to bend.

Tech News

Senate gives up on ZTE sanctions

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Shutterstock / mdgn

Though a number of US senators have been seeking to block President Trump’s deal with ZTE that lets the Chinese firm circumvent sanctions put into place by US officials earlier this year, they have now backed off on that effort. In June, the Senate passed a version of the National Defense Authorization Act that reinstated sanctions against ZTE and would effectively nullify the president’s and Commerce Department’s deal with the firm. However, the House of Representatives passed a version of the bill without such language and the two chambers have been working on a compromise bill that marries each of their versions. Senators have now decided to abandon the ZTE sanctions in exchange for more oversight for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS).

Earlier this year, the US banned ZTE from working with US companies after the firm shipped US-made parts to Iran and North Korea and then lied about giving executives involved in the deals large bonuses. But in June, the Commerce Department announced that it and the Trump administration had come to an agreement with ZTE and sanctions would be lifted as long as the company paid a $1 billion penalty, put $400 million in escrow, installed new directors and embedded a US-selected corporate monitor.

US lawmakers, however, weren’t satisfied with the deal and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) told the Wall Street Journal last month, “China is using its telecommunications companies as means to conduct espionage. We need to solve the larger puzzle of trade and national security in addition to the enforcement action for the violation of sanctions.” The Senate later voted 85 to 10 to reinstate sanctions. But while lawmakers have debated how to deal with ZTE, the company has been working to comply with Trump’s deal. It replaced its CEO and other executives, installed a new board of directors, signed an escrow agreement with the Commerce Department, paid its fine and installed a US-chosen monitor. Because ZTE has now completed all requirements, the Commerce Department officially lifted the ban last week.

In exchange for backing off on the ZTE sanctions, lawmakers agreed to give CFIUS more authority over deals between foreign investors and US businesses. The committee reviews foreign investments in US companies, gauging whether they represent a threat to national security, and can advise the president to block deals whenever they’re found to pose a threat. It argued against the takeover of Qualcomm by Broadcom earlier this year. The language included in the National Defense Authorization Act will give CFIUS the ability to intervene in more cases than it can now.

But some Senators aren’t pleased. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the backtrack on ZTE is an example of the president “being weak in the face of another nation’s leader while the GOP just follows along.” And Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who was a proponent

Tech News

Mark Zuckerberg: CEO, billionaire, troll

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

We imagine the scene at Facebook right now is like Kim Jong-il’s funeral. Employees weeping in hallways, dripping anguished snot onto keyboards, beating their chests with unsold Facebook phones in an orgy of anguish at the injustice of media coverage regarding Mark Zuckerberg’s unprompted defense this week of giving Holocaust deniers a voice on the platform.

But I think we’ve finally figured out what’s going on at Facebook after all.

You know that guy. The one who pops into a chill online community and makes everyone miserable. The one who says he’s “just asking questions” about women able to do math, black people and evolution, shooting victims and paid actors, the validity of the Holocaust.

He’s the one that mods have to kick out for “JAQing off” (“Just Asking Questions”) because he clearly has bad intentions to harm the community and recruit hate. The troll who feigns naïveté and uses free speech as a foil.

This week we learned that if you give that guy a platform for his voice, he’ll out himself real fast. Right now, headlines blare Zuckerberg in Holocaust denial row and Fortune 500 C.E.O. Says Holocaust Deniers Must Be Given “a Voice”.

To be clear, on Tuesday Zuckerberg gave a wandering kid-glove interview with Kara Swisher of Recode, the same day Facebook’s representatives went to the mat to avoid telling the House Judiciary Committee exactly how InfoWars gets to stay on Facebook while it pretends to decry hate speech.

Zuckerberg told Recode that Facebook won’t ban Holocaust deniers or race-war conspiracy propagators like InfoWars just because they’re “getting it wrong.” Also, booting them would go against his and Facebook’s “responsibility” to “give people a voice.” Even in his next-day backtracking, Mr. Zuckerberg and his company doubled-down on giving that guy a safe space, a voice, and a platform.

As Matt Ford at The Atlantic tweeted, in the original interview Zuckerberg wasn’t even asked about his company’s policy of fostering Holocaust denial, “he just said he’d keep it on Facebook on his own.”

So, I guess that was Zuckerberg’s last podcast? pic.twitter.com/niUS5NPuQR

— Mat Honan (@mat) July 19, 2018

Then came the headlines. Quickly followed by Mark Zuckerberg pulling a Trump, telling his softball interviewer that he misspoke. “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that,” he wrote in a warm personal email to Kara Swisher.

We imagine loyal Facebook employees on the floor in the breakroom, tearing up chunks of rubber floor mats and chewing them, swallowing through their own howls and moans, sobbing. “No one understands what Mark really means,” they cry.

But we all know that one way to double-down is to split hairs. It’s the hallmark of trolling. It’s what that guy is really good at.

Nowhere is this more clear than this week’s Channel Four (UK) Dispatches episode Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network. The episode

Tech News

Apple, Fitbit and Sonos could feel the sting of Trump tariffs

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Chris Velazco / Engadget

Some wearables and smart speakers could soon face a price increase because of US tariffs on Chinese goods, according to US Customs and Border Protection classifications. Reuters reported that Apple Watch, Fitbit devices and some Sonos speakers fall under a “data transmission machines” subheading in a list of 6,000 tariff codes proposed earlier this month.

Customs rulings specifically declare that Apple Watch; Fitbit Charge, Charge HR and Surge; and Sonos Play:3, Play:5 and SUB fall under that subheading. The most recent list of tariffs relate to $200 billion worth of goods and are in a public comment period. If they go into effect in the fall, there could be a 10 percent tariff imposed on all those products.

Apple, Fitbit and Sonos most definitely won’t want to eat that cost, so if the tariffs take effect, it’s likely their devices will see a price hike, with consumers getting hit in the pocket. In its S-1 filing earlier this month as Sonos prepares for its IPO, the company warned that “the imposition of tariffs and other trade barriers, as well as retaliatory trade measures, could require us to raise the prices of our products and harm our sales.”

The tech industry as a whole is wrestling with increased costs because of the trade war with China. Tesla has moved to combat tariffs by raising prices in China.

President Trump has been accused by a Consumer Technology Association vice president of targeting select products and companies with the tariffs. According to the New York Times, Trump recently told Apple CEO Tim Cook that the government would not impose tariffs on iPhones made in China — the president switched from Android to Apple’s smartphone last year.

However, the Apple, Fitbit and Sonos devices may not all still fall under the “data transmission machines” subheading. Some of the products have new models that could have a different classification. Otherwise, there are three ways out of the tariff for the firms: try to get the code nixed from the list during the public comment period, apply for an exclusion, or attempt to get their devices reclassified under a code not on the list.

Tech News

Three top FBI officials quit as US cybersecurity threats mount

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Loop Images/Alan Novelli via Getty Images

Looming cybersecurity threats are reportedly behind the departure of several cybersecurity officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to The Wall Street Journal, three of the top FBI officials — Scott Smith, David Resch, and Carl Ghattas — are exiting the bureau.

The resignations come amidst an “unprecedented” number of cyberattacks, which apparently include Russian meddling in the political system, as well as disputes with President Trump. Last year, the US President took a swipe at the FBI’s reputation on social media, calling it “the worst in history”.

Assistant FBI director Scott Smith is set to resign this month, and will be joined by David Resch, the FBI’s executive assistant director of the cyber, response and services office. Meanwhile, the national security branch of the FBI will lose Carl Ghattas — also an executive assistant director — as he pursues other opportunities in the private sector.

All of the departures have been confirmed by the FBI.

In a statement, Resch assured the public that “the Bureau will remain the FBI the American people have depended on for 110 years”. Those familiar with the decisions have labelled the mass exodus of senior officials as “highly unusual”, particularly in the case of Smith, whose premature departure diverges from the standard practice of agents leaving after retirement age.

With the shadow of the 2016 election hacking still lingering, and concerns with present cybersecurity issues, senior US intelligence officials have cautioned the country has reached a “critical point”.

Tech News

Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter unite to simplify data transfers

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Dean Mouhtaropoulos via Getty Images

Four of the biggest technology companies are banding together to make it easier for users to download and transfer their data between services. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter formally announced The Data Transfer Project (DTP) today, an open-source initiative to create new tools that “enable people to freely move their information across the web,” Damien Kieran, Data Protection Officer at Twitter explained. It’s early days, but the group has published a white paper that details its vision for an easier, more flexible “data portability ecosystem.” The group says it wants an open dialogue with developers and users alike moving forward.

At its core, the DTP will use a series of “adapters” that can unravel propriety APIs into easily understandable data packets. Adapters will come in two types: import and export data adapters, and authentication adapters for verifying and protecting users. In practice, a person could transfer their Instagram photos to Flickr, or Google Photos, without having to mass-download and upload their library. Once it’s finalized, the new system should cover all types of data including email, contacts, calendars and tasks. Individual data types, called Data Models, will be grouped together under Verticals. A service like YouTube Music, for instance, could have Data Models for playlists and music videos under its music Vertical.

The challenge for Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Twitter, of course, will be getting everyone to adopt and maintain the most popular Data Models.

The DTP is still in development and not available to the wider public. There are, however, a couple of GitHub-hosted methods that curious engineers can try out right now. The end-goal is to get companies outside of the current contributors to embrace the new system. That way, users will have true flexibility over the services they use and the amount of data each one holds. You might have all your running data on Strava, for instance, and suddenly discover a new app with a superior service. Or decide that actually, you would prefer to do all of your social networking on Google+.

The announcement follows the introduction of GDPR in the EU. The legislation adds a number of consumer-focused protections inside the European Union, including the requirement that all companies offer some kind of data download tool. The DTP is meant for everyone — not just the EU — but has likely been accelerated because of the new regulations. “This will take time but we are very excited to work with innovators and passionate people from other companies to ensure we are putting you first,” Kieran added. “Fundamentally this is about pushing towards a more open and dynamic internet.”

Tech News

WhatsApp clamps down on forwarding to reduce hoaxes and spam

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

An attendee holds a mobile phone displaying a fake message shared on Facebook Inc.s WhatsApp messaging service while attending an event to raise awareness on fake news in Balgera village in the district of Gadwal, Telangana, India, on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Bloomberg via Getty Images

While parent company Facebook shifts policies on how to handle content that it said can lead to violence, WhatsApp is also in a state of change. A blog post describes how it’s limiting the ability to forward messages to multiple chats at once, apparently in hopes that it will slow the spread of hoaxes and misinformation that have incited recent lynchings in India. Previously users could forward to over 250 people at once, and now the limit globally has been reduced to 20. In India, it will be restricted to five, and a “quick forward” button next to media messages will be removed.

The company called these changes a “test,” while a spokesperson said to Recode that “We’re horrified by the violence in India, and we’ve announced number of different product changes to help address these issues.” WhatsApp already shifted to labeling forwarded messages, it recently started funding research into the problem and now it’s making another attempt to put the brakes on. TechCrunch points out a report from The Economic Times that WhatsApp execs have met with India’s election commission and plan to bring over the news verification model recently used in Mexico.

Gaming News

You Can Now Watch U.S. Congresspeople Stream Video Games

July 19, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Washington Post reporter David Weigel (left) interviews Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz (right) while the two play Madden 18. Screenshot: Kotaku (Twitch)

The Washington Post is now Twitch streaming politicians beating its reporters at video games, starting today with Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz demolishing reporter David Weigel 26 to 0 in Madden 18. It’s an extremely weird interview format, but one that feels perfectly at home in the absurd media landscape of 2018.

Why Madden 18? Apparently Gaetz, who admits he doesn’t really play games all that much, picked it. He began explaining why at one point—“if you needed a game to prove you were a real American”—before trailing off. For his part, Weigel confessed to preferring shooters, saying he plays Call of Duty online from time to time. “The WWII game was a little less exciting than it should have been,” he said, offering the hottest gaming take he could muster. Both men looked like they felt out of place, unsure how to interact over the game, despite both being extremely adept at their respective crafts. Every couple of minutes Weigel would criticize his own play-calling and then pivot to an open-ended question. Gaetz would offer a hedged response before immediately pivoting to a rehearsed-sounding zinger about how badly he was beating Weigel.

It was far from the type of media appearance Gaetz has become known for. The 35-year-old Congressman has spent his relatively young political career courting the most unapologetically conservative and alt right parts of the Republican party. The banner for his Twitter page is him taking a selfie with Trump. He’s been on Alex Jones’ InfoWars in the past, and earlier this year he invited Holocaust denier and white supremacist Chuck Johnson to be his guest at the State of the Union. Elected the same year as Trump, he’s since made a name for himself by being the President’s number one congressional defender, ready to appear in any article or on any TV show to spin his right wing yarns. Last month, for instance, he went on Lou Dobbs Tonight to claim that Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, accused of not acting on allegations of sexual abuse while serving as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University, was being unfairly targeted by people affiliated with the deep state.

Waluigi won’t be in this year’s Super Smash Bros. game, but it looks like he will at least have weekly appearances on the Washington Post Twitch channel. Screenshot: Kotaku (Twitch)

The Washington Post began its Twitch programming in April by streaming Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate hearing. This week it used Trump’s Helsinki Summit with Vladimir Putin to kick off a more regular schedule, including a series of analysis talk shows with reporter Libby Casey and a series of more traditional gaming streams called “Playing Games with Politicians.” The Post is owned by Jeff Bezos—who also owns Amazon, which also owns Twitch—so the paper’s attempts to break out into political coverage oriented around playing video games isn’t a surprise. The product, so far at least, is still bizarre. The Washington Post did not immediately respond to a request by Kotaku for comment about the reasoning behind the Twitch program.

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While deciding whether to have his Tampa Bay Buccaneers run the ball or pass, Gaetz was much more anodyne than usual. The meandering discussion focused on topics like net neutrality and medical marijuana legalization, topics on which he holds more mainstream views (he’s in favor of both). Rather than defend the latest Trump gaffe or explain his desire to open an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, Gaetz was content to just game and chill, and Weigel likewise wasn’t keen to press him on issues.

At times it seemed like someone might get distracted enough during an offensive drive to actually break from the bullshit and say something real. People laugh at streamers who get paid to game all day, but anyone who’s tried streaming knows how hard it is to speak with charm and wit while a hundred on screen stimuli are screaming for your attention. Unfortunately, the moments of candor rarely came. “I tell you, it’s Donald Trump’s America, man,” Gaetz said early on. He continued: “Is anything really used against anyone anymore? Does anyone even remember that Trump picked a fight with the Pope?”

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In keeping with the game-streaming format, cohost Gene Park asked questions from the Twitch chat by users named things like AbortionShark about what Gaetz likes to eat for breakfast and whether he likes pineapple on his pizza. The glimmer of a real moment came when Twitch viewer PikaPalTV asked Gaetz about why he’d associated himself with Chuck Johnson who, among other things, has advocated killing Black Lives Matter activists. “That was a mistake in vetting,” Gaetz said, contrary to his defense of Johnson immediately following the controversy. “I probably should have googled him first.” He then stared intently at a recap of the last Madden play for a few seconds before Park bailed him out with softball question about military readiness.

The Congressman also recently expressed regret for his appearances on Alex Jones’ show. “Upon further reflection, I think that the things that Alex Jones has said and done are so hurtful to so many people that a member of Congress should not grace that platform and legitimize it, and I would not go back,” Gaetz . For anyone who doesn’t know, Jones helped popularize the conspiracy that the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax, calling the parents of the victims liars. He began doing that in 2014, but Gaetz appeared on his show this past January. None of this came up during the 26 points he scored against Weigel, though. It probably wouldn’t have mattered if it had. After all, this is Trump’s America.

“All right guys keep defending democracy or whatever,” said Twitch commenter craigjenkum when the crew signed off. Don’t worry, they will—next Thursday, when the show returns with another politician, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, this time playing Wii Sports.

Tech News

NYC bill could force Airbnb to turn over its hosts' info

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Supporters of Airbnb hold a rally on the steps of New York City Hall showing support for the company on October 30, 2015 in New York City. Andrew Burton via Getty Images

The New York City Council voted in support of regulation that would force Airbnb, HomeAway and other short-term rental services to hand over about hosts using their sites. State law already prohibits rentals of most apartments for less than 30 days unless the permanent tenant is there, but it enforcement has not been thorough. If this bill takes effect, that could change quickly.

Earlier this year a similar law forcing renters to register took effect in San Francisco and half of Airbnb’s listings disappeared. According to the city council, short-term rental listings reduce the amount of affordable housing available and drive up rents for residents. Airbnb could sue to try and stop the bill from being signed into law, opposing it on the grounds of privacy for hosts. The company also claims that despite what council members have said about landlords using the sites instead of taking on long-term tenants, it benefits regular people who use listings to help pay their bills.

Tech News

Robocall company exposes hundreds of thousands of voter records

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Hundreds of thousands of voter records were left exposed on an Amazon S3 bucket, ZDNet reports, this time by Virginia-based robocalling firm Robocent. Among the information that was left accessible were names, home addresses, gender, phone numbers, age, birth years, ethnicity, education and language spoken as well as state-provided or inferred political leanings such as “weak Democrat,” “hard Republican” and “swing” voter. The cache contained nearly 2,600 files, including audio recordings of political messages.

The records were spotted by Bob Diachenko, Kromtech Security’s head of communications, who notified Robocent of the leak. The data were secured shortly thereafter and the company’s co-founder, Travis Trawick, told ZDNet that the records contained in the cache were from “an old bucket from 2013-2016 that hasn’t been used in the past two years.” It’s unclear how long the records were exposed, but Robocent says it’s looking into the leak. Trawick said those who were affected will be notified if Robocent is “required by law” to do so.

It has been a bad few years for voter data security. Last year, information on nearly 200 million US citizens was exposed by a political ad-targeting strategist, and a voting machine supplier leaked personal information from over 1.8 million Chicago residents. In 2016, the Republican Party of Iowa exposed information from around 2 million voters and in 2015, a badly configured database was spotted exposing voter registration info, including addresses, party affiliations and voter IDs, for 191 million Americans.

Last year, Harvard researchers also found that some states’ voter registration websites left voter records vulnerable to manipulation and earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security revealed that Russian forces accessed a number of US states’ voter registration databases ahead of the last presidential election.