Businesses

Disastrous 'Pokemon Go' Event Leads To Mass Refunds (techcrunch.com) 145

thegarbz writes: A Pokemon Go Fest hosted in Chicago and attended by between 15-20,000 people has ended in disaster. The event was plagued by logistical issues resulting in 3+ hour long delays getting into Chicago's Grant Park... Those people who were lucky enough to get into the paid event were greeted with a completely overloaded cell network unable to cope with the number of people trying to get online at the same time. The occasional person who was able to connect experienced a never ending string of game-breaking bugs when attempting to catch the rare Pokemon created specifically for this event.
Gaming company Niantic finally just gave a rare Pokemon Go character to everyone who attended -- though one attendee still called it a "horrible, terrible day." The Kansas City Star reported some people had paid as much as $400 for their tickets -- which had sold out within minutes -- and that some attendees had even started lining up for the event at 6 a.m.
Android

Samsung's 'Bixby' Voice Assistant Finally Launches In US (theverge.com) 40

After 3 months, Samsung announced that the voice capabilities of its digital assistant are now rolling out to U.S. Galaxy S8 and S8+ owners. Now, if you happen to own a Galaxy S8 or S8+, the physical Bixby button on the lefthand side of your phone will be able to actually do something somewhat useful. The Verge reports: Bixby's voice capabilities have been available in the US as part of an opt-in beta test, and Samsung says that feedback has led to faster response times, improved comprehension of varied phrasing around the same question, better hands-free operation, and more. Over 100,000 users of the flagship devices have enrolled in the early access program and issued over 4 million voice commands. Also, Samsung says Bixby can now read aloud your latest SMS messages and emails -- if you use its stock apps on the Galaxy S8. Bixby can be activated with a push of the dedicated Bixby button located on the side of the Galaxy S8 and S8+, or by saying "hi Bixby." Like Siri and Google Assistant, Bixby can handle alarms, send texts, and so on, but its real power lies in the ability to access granular phone settings or -- in supported apps -- automatically move through several menu screens to perform commands that Google Assistant simply can't do. Samsung says that deep learning should allow Bixby to improve over time as it begins to recognize users' preferences and ways of speaking. Here's a video showing some of the voice commands Bixby can respond to.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

American ISPS Are Now Fighting State Broadband Privacy Proposals (eff.org) 74

The EFF complains that "the very companies who spent millions of dollars lobbying in D.C. to repeal our federal broadband privacy rights are now fighting state attempts to protect consumers because they supposedly prefer a federal rule." The EFF urges Californians to phone their state senator ahead of a crucial back-to-back committee hearings on Tuesday. An anonymous reader writes: "Congress stole your online privacy. Let's seize it back," begins an email that the EFF is sending to California supporters. It warns that "Big Telecom has massive amounts of money to spend on an army of lobbyists. But if Internet users from across California unite with one voice, we can defeat their misinformation campaign... Don't let the big ISPs coopt our privacy."

The EFF's site points out that more than 83% of Americans support the privacy regulations which were repealed in March by the U.S. Congress, according to a new poll released last week. That's even more than the 77% of Americans who support keeping current net neutrality protections in place, according to the same poll. The EFF now hopes that California's newly-proposed legislation could become a model for privacy-protecting laws in other states. And back in Silicon Valley, the San Jose Mercury News writes that California "has an obligation to take a lead in establishing the basic privacy rights of consumers using the Internet. Beyond being the right thing to do for the whole country, building trust in tech products is an essential long-term business strategy for the industry that was born in this region."

The EFF has also compiled an interesting list of past instances where ISPs have already tried to exploit the personal information of their customers for profit.
Cloud

Border Patrol Says It's Barred From Searching Cloud Data On Phones (nbcnews.com) 74

According to a letter obtained by NBC News, U.S. border officers aren't allowed to look at any data stored only in the "cloud" -- including social media data -- when they search U.S. travelers' phones. "The letter (PDF), sent in response to inquiries by Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), and verified by Wyden's office, not only states that CBP doesn't search data stored only with remote cloud services, but also -- apparently for the first time -- declares that it doesn't have that authority in the first place." From the report: In April, Wyden and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced legislation to make it illegal for border officers to search or seize cellphones without probable cause. Privacy advocates and former Homeland Security lawyers have said they are alarmed by how many phones are being searched. The CBP letter, which is attributed to Kevin McAleenan, the agency's acting commissioner, is dated June 20, four months after Wyden asked the Department of Homeland Security (PDF), CBP's parent agency, to clarify what he called the "deeply troubling" practice of border agents' pressuring Americans into providing passwords and access to their social media accounts. McAleenan's letter says officers can search a phone without consent and, except in very limited cases, without a warrant or even suspicion -- but only for content that is saved directly to the device, like call histories, text messages, contacts, photos and videos.
Iphone

Would You Buy the iPhone 8 If It Cost $1,200? (9to5mac.com) 561

As we near the launch of the next iPhone, rumors are swirling about what it may feature. One of the most recent reports comes from developer and blogger John Gruber, who claims the iPhone 8 will have a starting price of around $1200. 9to5Mac reports: He last week said that he believed that what we've been referring to as the iPhone 8 would be called the iPhone Pro and that he actually hoped it would be really expensive: "I hope the iPhone Pro starts at $1500 or higher. I'd like to see what Apple can do in a phone with a higher price." As you might imagine, that generated quite a bit of discussion. Gruber has backed down somewhat from this position, and is now suggesting a starting point of around $1200: "$1,500 as a starting price is probably way too high. But I think $1,200 is quite likely as the starting price, with the high-end model at $1,300 or $1,400." His argument is effectively that Apple is constrained in what it can do in a phone because any technology included in the phone has to be available in huge volumes. If it were willing to sell fewer at a higher price, then it would have more options. There has been speculation that Gruber may have been tipped by Apple, and using his posts to prepare the ground for what would otherwise be a severe case of sticker shock. But Gruber denied this. If Apple does launch the iPhone 8 with a 4-figure price tag, would you buy it?
Crime

State Prison Officials Blame An Escape On Drones And Cellphones (usatoday.com) 223

An anonymous reader quotes USA Today: A fugitive South Carolina inmate recaptured in Texas this week had chopped his way through a prison fence using wire cutters apparently dropped by a drone, prison officials said Friday. Jimmy Causey, 46, fled the Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville, S.C., on the evening of July 4th after leaving a paper mache doll in his bed to fool guards into thinking he was asleep. He was not discovered missing until Wednesday afternoon. Causey was captured early Friday 1,200 miles away in a motel in Austin by Texas Rangers acting on a tip, WLTX-TV reported... "We believe a drone was used to fly in the tools that allow(ed) him to escape," South Carolina Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said...

Stirling said prison officials are investigating the performance by prison guards that night but pointed to cellphones and drones as the main problem. The director said he and other officials have sought federal help for years to combat the use of drones to drop contraband into prison. "It's a simple fix," Stirling said. "Allow us to block the signal... They are physically incarcerated, but they are not virtually incarcerated."

It's the second time the same convict escaped from South Carolina's maximum security prison -- albeit the first time he's (allegedly) used a drone. The state's Law Enforcement Division Chief also complains that the federal government still prohibits state corrections officials from blocking cellphones, and "as long as cellphones continue to be utilized by inmates in prisons we're going to have things like this -- we're going to have very well-planned escapes..."
Cellphones

Researchers Have Developed A Battery-Free Mobile Phone (hothardware.com) 83

An anonymous reader quotes HotHardware: Researchers from the University of Washington are looking to make batteries a thing of the past when it comes to mobile phones. The team has developed a phone that uses "almost zero power" according to associate professor Shyam Gollakota, who co-authored a paper which detailed the breakthrough... The researchers designed the phone to harvest microwatts of power from RF signals transmitted from a base station that is 31 feet away. Additional power is harnessed via ambient light through the use of miniature photodiodes that are about the size of a grain of rice. While in use, the phone consumes about 3.5 microwatts of power and is capable of communicating with a custom base station that is up to 50 feet away to send and receive calls... The phone ditches the traditional analog-to-digital converter, which turns your voice into data, in favor of a system that uses the vibrations from a microphone or speaker to perform the same task. An antenna then converts that motion into radio signals in such a way that very little power is consumed.
There's two drawbacks. First, modern smartphones "need a lot more than a 3.5-microwatt power budget for blazing fast processor, copious amounts of RAM and internal storage, and power-hungry displays." And more importantly, "you have to press a button to switch between transmissions and listening modes with the phone."
Cellphones

Nest Founder 'Wakes Up In Cold Sweats' Fearing The Impact Of Mobile Technology (fastcodesign.com) 106

theodp writes: Fast Company's Co.Design reports that Tony Fadell, who founded Nest and was instrumental in the creation of the iPod and iPhone, spoke with a mix of pride and regret about his role in mobile technology's rise to omnipresence. "I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, what did we bring to the world?" Fadell said. "Did we really bring a nuclear bomb with information that can -- like we see with fake news -- blow up people's brains and reprogram them? Or did we bring light to people who never had information, who can now be empowered?"

Faddell added that addiction has been designed into our devices, and it's harming the newest generation. "And I know when I take [technology] away from my kids what happens," Fadell explained. "They literally feel like you're tearing a piece of their person away from them-they get emotional about it, very emotional. They go through withdrawal for two to three days." Products like the iPhone, Fadell believes, are more attuned to the needs of the individual rather than what's best for the family and the larger community. And pointing to YouTube owner Google, Fadell said, "It was like, [let] any kind of content happen on YouTube. Then a lot of the executives started having kids, [and saying], maybe this isn't such a good idea. They have YouTube Kids now."

The article suggests Fadell is describing a world where omnipresent (and distracting) screens are creating "a culture of self-aggrandizement," and he believes this is partly rooted in the origins of the devices. "A lot of the designers and coders who were in their 20s when we were creating these things didn't have kids."
Cellphones

RED Launches a $1,200 Smartphone With a 'Hydrogen Holographic Display' (phonedog.com) 76

RED, a company known for its high-end $10,000+ cameras, is launching a smartphone called the RED Hydrogen One. Some of the features include a 5.7-inch "Hydrogen holographic display" capable of viewing holographic RED Hydrogen 4-View content, 3D content, and 2D/3D virtual-reality and augmented-reality content, a built-in H3O algorithm that can convert stereo sound into multi-dimensional audio, and support for modular components. PhoneDog reports: RED isn't really talking about any of the Hydrogen One's raw specs like its processor, camera resolution, RAM, or battery size. We do know that it runs Android and that it'll have a microSD slot, and we can see in RED's sole teaser image that the phone will also have a 3.5mm headphone jack and USB Type-C port. The RED Hydrogen One is currently slated to begin shipping in Q1 2018. If you're already sold on the device, you can pre-order an aluminum model for $1,195 or a titanium version of $1,595. RED does say that these prices will be available for a limited time only.
Businesses

Despite Hacking Charges, US Tech Industry Fought To Keep Ties To Russia Spy Service (reuters.com) 69

The U.S. tech sector pushed the government to keep ties with Russia's spy agency, despite reports that Moscow meddled in the U.S. presidential election, Reuters reported Friday. The sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration last December outlawed U.S. companies from having relationships with Russia's spy agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), which presented a dilemma to Western tech companies. Reuters says, the FSB also acts as a regulator that approves the importing of technology to Russia that contains encryption, which is used in products such as cellphones and laptops. Joel Schectman, Dustin Volz and Jack Stubbs, reporting for Reuters: Worried about the sales impact, business industry groups, including the U.S.-Russia Business Council and the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, contacted U.S. officials at the American embassy in Moscow and the Treasury, State and Commerce departments, according to five people with direct knowledge of the lobbying effort. The campaign, which began in January and proved successful in a matter of weeks, has not been previously reported. [...] The sanctions would have meant the Russian market was "dead for U.S. electronics" said Alexis Rodzianko, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, who argued against the new restrictions. "Every second Russian has an iPhone, iPad, so they would all switch to Samsungs," he said. [...] The lobbyists argued the sanction could have stopped the sale of cars, medical devices and heavy equipment, all of which also often contain encrypted software, according to a person involved in the lobbying effort. The goal of the sanctions was to sever U.S. business dealings with the FSB -- not end American technology exports to Russia entirely, the industry groups argued. "The sanction was against a government agency that has many functions, only one of them being hacking the U.S. elections," said Rodzianko.
Cellphones

Software Developer Explains Why The Ubuntu Phone Failed (itwire.com) 137

troublemaker_23 quotes ITWire: A developer who worked with the Ubuntu Phone project has outlined the reasons for its failure, painting a picture of confusion, poor communication and lack of technical and marketing foresight. Simon Raffeiner stopped working with the project in mid-2016, about 10 months before Canonical owner Mark Shuttleworth announced that development of the phone and the tablet were being stopped.
Raffeiner says, for example, that "despite so many bugs being present, developers were not concentrating on fixing them, but rather on adding support for more devices." But he says he doesn't regret the time he spent on the project -- though now he spends his free time "traveling the world, taking photographs and creating bad card games, bad comics and bad games."

"Please note that this post does not apply to the UBPorts project, which continues to work on the phone operating system, Unity 8 and other components."
Cellphones

Texting While Driving Now Legal In Colorado -- In Some Cases (kdvr.com) 95

Fines for texting and driving in Colorado have jumped to $300, but according to the fine print, the increased fine only applies to drivers who are texting in "a careless or imprudent manner." Therefore, drivers who are texting in any other manner are still within the law. FOX31 Denver reports: Before the new legislation, any texting while driving was illegal. Tim Lane of the Colorado District Attorney's Office confirmed the softening crackdown on all texting and driving. "The simple fact is that if you are texting while driving but not being careless, it's no longer illegal," he said. What constitutes "careless" driving is up to the discretion of each individual law enforcement officer. Cellphone use of any kind is still banned for drivers younger than 18. Teens caught with a phone in hand while driving will be slapped with a $50 fine.
Businesses

Remember When You Called Someone and Heard a Song? (vice.com) 152

An anonymous reader shares a Motherboard article: If you were youngish in the early 2000s, you probably remember this phenomenon -- calling a friend's cell phone, and instead of hearing the the standard ring, you heard a pop song. Called ringback tones, this digital music fad allowed cell phone owners to subject callers to their own musical preference. Ringback tones were incredibly trendy in the early and mid-2000's, but have since tapered off nearly to oblivion. Though almost nobody is buying ringbacks anymore, plenty of people still have them from back in the day. [...] In the process of writing this story, I heard from several people that they or someone they knew still had a ringback tone, in large part because they have had it for years, and don't know how to get rid of it.
Cellphones

A Colorado Group Wants To Ban Smartphones For Kids (apnews.com) 389

An anonymous reader quotes the AP: Colorado officials have cleared the language of a proposed ballot measure that would establish the nation's first legal limits on buying smartphones for children. Backers of the move to forbid the sale of smartphones to children younger than 13 would now need about 300,000 voter signatures for the proposal to make the 2018 ballot. The ban would require cellphone retailers to ask customers about the age of the primary user of a smartphone and submit monthly reports to the Colorado Department of Revenue on adhering to the requirement. Retailers who sell a phone for use by a youngster could be fined $500, after a warning.
A Denver-area dad is leading the campaign -- a board certified anesthesiologist who says children change when they get a cellphone. "They go from being outgoing, energetic, interested in the world and happy, to reclusive. They want to spend all their time in their room. They lose interest in outside activities."
Wireless Networking

T-Mobile Rolling Out 600 MHz Low-Band Wireless (yahoo.com) 47

s122604 quotes a report from Yahoo Finance: T-Mobile, the third largest U.S. national wireless operator, has decided to roll out 600 MHz wireless spectrum in its footprints by this summer. Low-band spectrum is essential for wireless operators as the signals can be transmitted over longer distances and through brick-and-mortar walls in cities. Smartphones for this radio frequency are likely to be made available by Samsung and other manufacturers this summer.
AI

Samsung's Bixby Voice Assistant Is Finally Coming to the US -- But Only As a Preview (techcrunch.com) 21

When the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ went on sale in the North American market, it was missing one of its most touted features -- the Bixby smart assistant. Technically, it was available on launch day but its voice functionality was missing due to issues with the English language version, thus rendering the dedicated Bixby button on the side of the S8 and S8+ nearly useless. Today, Bixby Voice is finally making its stateside debut -- but only as a preview. TechCrunch reports: The company is positioning this is a "sneak peak" for the feature that was initially planned to debut on its new flagship phones. Starting this week, a select number of Galaxy S8 and S8+ can sign up to be among the first in the U.S. to test it out. From the sound of it, Samsung's still working on some tweaks here, using this limited launch to basically do some public beta testing. The company didn't have a lot to say about the closed launch, aside from reiterating some of its grandiose plans for making Bixby, "an integral part of our connected ecosystem," according to the company's CTO.
Cellphones

We Could Have Had Cellphones Four Decades Earlier (reason.com) 263

_Sharp'r_ writes: Professor Thomas Hazlett of Clemson University analyzed the history of wireless spectrum and concluded the technology was known and available for cellphones in the 40s, but there was no spectrum available. Based on assumptions cellphones would always be luxury goods without mass appeal, significant spectrum for divisible cellular networks wasn't legally usable until the early 80s. Instead, the unused spectrum was reserved for the future expansion of broadcast TV to channels 70-83. Here's an excerpt from the report: "When AT&T wanted to start developing cellular in 1947, the FCC rejected the idea, believing that spectrum could be best used by other services that were not 'in the nature of convenience or luxury.' This view -- that this would be a niche service for a tiny user base -- persisted well into the 1980s. 'Land mobile,' the generic category that covered cellular, was far down on the FCC's list of priorities. In 1949, it was assigned just 4.7 percent of the spectrum in the relevant range. Broadcast TV was allotted 59.2 percent, and government uses got one-quarter."
Android

Samsung Left Millions Vulnerable To Hackers Because It Forgot To Renew a Domain (vice.com) 54

An anonymous reader writes: Samsung cellphones used to have a stock app called S Suggest. The company apparently discontinued the app recently, and then forgot to renew a domain that was used to control it. This snafu left millions of smartphone users vulnerable to hackers who could've registered the domain and installed malicious apps on the phones.
Google

Play Store Downloads Show Google Pixel Sales Limited To 1 Million Units (arstechnica.com) 70

While Google has yet to release official sales numbers for its flagship Google Pixel smartphone, a Play Store app may shed some light on roughly how many units are in circulation. The Pixel Launcher, which is installed by default on the Pixel and Pixel XL, just crossed into the "1,000,000-5,000,000" install tier, leading us to assume that Google has finally sold 1,000,000 Google Pixel units. Ars Technica notes that "the Pixel is seen as Google's answer to the iPhone, but considering Apple sells 40 to 50 million iPhones in a quarter, Google has some catching up to do." From the report: This calculation is complicated by the fact that Google Play doesn't show exact install numbers; it shows installs in "tiers" like "100,000-500,000." So most of the time, we won't have an exact Pixel sales number -- except when the Pixel Launcher crosses from one download tier to another. So guess what just happened? The Pixel Launcher just crossed into the "1,000,000-5,000,000" install tier (you can see some third-party tracking sites, like AppBrain, still have it listed at 500,000). So for this one moment in history, eight months after launch, we can say Google finally sold a million Pixel phones. The Play Store device targeting ensures no one other than Pixel owners can download the Pixel Launcher, and the install count doesn't include sideloading. The most popular sideloading site, APKMirror, has more than 1.3 million downloads on just a single version of the Pixel Launcher, so we know that sideloaders actually outnumber legitimate Pixel Launcher users. There are some statistically insignificant root shenanigans you could pull to download the Pixel Launcher from the Play Store on a non-Pixel device, but there is no way the number of sold Pixels is higher than 1 million units at this point in time.
Government

Delays In Unlocking Cellphones Seized In Inauguration Day Protests? (buzzfeed.com) 163

Cellphone data may play a key role in prosecuting people arrested at inauguration day protests, according to an article shared by Slashdot reader Mosquito Bites. A U.S. attorney acknowledged that "the government recovered cell phones from more than 100 indicted defendants and other un-indicted arrested" in a filing last March, adding "The government is in the process of extracting data from the Rioter Cell Phones pursuant to lawfully issued search warrants, and expects to be in a position to produce all of the data from the searchers Rioter Cell Phones in the next several weeks."

But 11 weeks later, it's a different story. Prosecutors "have provided defense lawyers with access to hundreds of hours of video footage from January 20, but have yet to turn over data extracted from more than 100 cell phones seized during the arrests, according to lawyers who spoke with BuzzFeed News." In addition, they report that now more than half the 200-plus defendants "are vowing not to cooperate with prosecutors, even in the face of a new set of felony charges that carry stiff maximum prison sentences."

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