Tag Archives: Department of Justice

PTJ 278: Fun with FragChucks

On this week’s episode, El Kaiser discusses his return to gaming and adventures with hardware, and J.D. explores the world of indoor maps. In tech news this week, Disney marches on to a Fox acquisition, Facebook tries a way to block spoilers, the Dark Net gets busted and this fall’s new Doctor Who series will have its own unique look and sound. Find a cool spot to kick back and spin up PTJ 278!

Links to Stories on This Week’s Show

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint

PTJ 276: Game On!

A judge cleared the way for AT&T and Time Warner to merge, Apple plans to reinforce its iPhone security, Microsoft made a bunch of announcements — but hey, here comes the annual E3 event to bring in the fun. El Kaiser and J.D. sort through it all before a discussion about the VPNFilter malware — you know, that one the FBI was warning about the other week — and how to protect your router from it. Spin up PTJ 276 to hear it all!

Reset Your Router

PTJ 262: Waiting In the Sky

The Space Race is back on — and Elon Musk’s own cherry-red Tesla Roadster is the pace car of the 21st century, having been shot into orbit around the sun by its owner. This week, El Kaiser and J.D. discuss the SpaceX test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket on February 6th, 2018; check out the video below if you missed the Roadster-flinging launch. Elsewhere in the show, El Kaiser shares his opinion about the idea of R-rated a Star Wars movie and J.D. offers tips on how to find online streaming videos with overdubbed audio descriptions for the blind and those with limited vision. For all this — plus a roundup of the week’s tech news — just blast off Episode 262!

Links to Stories on This Week’s Show

Technology + Accessibility

PTJ 188 News: Medieval Times

It’s felt like a blast from the past lately with all the big players in the airline industry, publishing business and now the telecommunications world merging themselves into near-monopolies. This week, the Department of Justice — with conditions — approved the marriage of Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications. The Consumerist blog took a look at what the merger means and came up with a few salient points to think about.

In less-worrisome TV and video news, the Turner company, the force behind the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, is teaming up with the Criterion Collection folks for a brand new streaming service called Filmstruck. With such a cinephile pedigree, however, it’s doubtful you’ll be able to find newer classics like Paul Blart, Mall Cop in the Filmstruck library.

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Spotify spokespeople have denied the site was hacked this week, but according to TechCrunch, some actual Spotify users have reported that their account emails had been changed or their list of saved songs had been altered. And Forbes is reporting that the personal information from 1.1 million members of the BeautifulPeople.com dating website is up for sale in the dark corners of the web.

Amazon is just not having any paid or fake reviews for products on its site. The übermegaeverything store filed a lawsuit last week against several sites that offered to write glowing reviews in exchange for a fee.

YouTube has overhauled its mobile apps for Android and iOS with a new focused design and improved recommendation engine to keep you watching more videos. The service also rolled out new six-second bumper ads to complement rather than replace the current formats it sells to advertisers and yes, you cannot skip the bumpers.

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Many members of the tech press recently observed the one-year anniversary of the Apple Watch . A few noted that sales for the Watch were actually better than the iPhone’s first year of sales back in the day, some 12 million watches compared to six million phones. While some lamented the fact they every ponied up the bucks for the expensive digital timepiece, others were hopeful that the next generation of the product — which may include its own cellular chip and more functions to separate it from the iPhone — may fare better. Perhaps we’ll see in September.

Apple, of course, refused to comment on any speculation about future products, but the company did have a media moment this week with its quarterly earnings report to investors. Although the company knew it was coming, it did have to report its first quarterly loss since 2003 thanks to shrinking iPhone sales. And in one more Apple note, the FBI says it actually knows so little about how that terrorist iPhone was cracked a few weeks ago that the agency says there shouldn’t be an internal review to decide if it should tell Apple how it was done.

Although Facebook tried a stand-alone camera app a few years ago only to kill it off due to lack of user interest, the company seems to be trying again. Reports describe a prototype for an app that would open to a camera and that users could record video and share live streams as well as snapping photos. The Wall Street Journal does say that its sources have not confirmed this latest go at a camera app is a done deal for Facebook.

photoNokia, which many people forgot still existed after Microsoft bought its phone handset business a few years ago, is still in business. And with that, Finland-based Nokia announced this week that it plans to acquire Withings SA, a company that makes digital health products like blood pressure monitors and wireless gadgets to monitor one’s body.

Speaking of Microsoft, that company pushed out a public preview of its new Skype for Business software for the Mac this week. If you are so inclined (or bored), you can request an invitation from Microsoft to participate in the preview program.

SpaceX, which had a successful landing of one of its reusable rocket boosters the other week, is lining up for another go. The company plans another launch and hopeful landing of a Falcon 9 booster rocket on May 3 to send up a Japanese communications satellite.

And finally, there’s a battle raging at the Unicode Consortium, the organization behind the standards for converting typed characters and pictographs into code that all computers can read. It seems battle lines have been drawn between academics and scholars who want official Unicode characters for things like medieval Cornish punctuation and those who want to create emoji for things like stuffed flatbread sandwiches.

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If you feel strongly about either side of the argument, you can weigh in financially with the Unicode Consortium’s Adopt a Character to sponsor your favorite Unicode character, which in turn helps the non-profit Unicode Consortium continue its work. And perhaps a compromise between the two warring tribes can be reached . . . a proper Cornish pasty emoji, anyone? Anyone?

PTJ 186 News: Twist of F8

Microsoft, now Facebook, then Google and Apple: The developer conference season is in full swing. Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference took place in San Francisco this week, complete with live streaming sessions and announcements about 360 degree video — as well as bots, news distribution and marketing tools for its Messenger app.

Lots of Facebook/Messenger-related news was announced as well:  The Dropbox blog said this week that you can share files stored on Dropbox directly through and without leaving the Facebook Messenger; Ticketmaster says it will soon start selling tickets to concerts and other events directly on Facebook; and Fandango sent out an email blast about a new ticketing and movie-discovery bot for Facebook Messenger.

fandango

Speaking of that popular movie site,  Fandango completes its acquisition of the Flixster site this month, alerting users that the deal was done with an update to the privacy policy. Fandango agreed to buy Flixster, which comes with the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregation site, last February from Warner Brothers.

Less than a week after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced it on Twitter, images purporting to be of the new Kindle Oasis e-reader popped up briefly on the Tmall.com website.

The Yik Yak social site, popular on college campuses for its easy anonymous posting ability, is said to be having some financial problems due to a slide in popularity, and this has generated an interesting post on the Medium site. It’s a good read  about what makes one app succeed and another app flop.

Microsoft seems to be makingWindows Blue Screen of Death errors easier to deal with, at least if a recent Windows Insider build of Windows 10 is any indication. Beta testers there have noticed the appearance of handy, scannable QR code on the Blue Screen of Death messages that when zapped by a smartphone QR app, takes you to a Microsoft help page to begin your troubleshooting journey.

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The 9to5Mac site got a peek at a note from an investment firm that predicts Apple Watch shipments will drop by 25% in a year-on-year comparison with 2015. Time to developer that killer app now…

If you like making graffiti or ever had fantasies of being a football TV analyst where you get to draw on the video playback, Periscope has something for you. A new beta version of the live-streaming app owned by Twitter includes a tool that lets you draw on your video feeds.

After a series of unfortunate events including an exploding rocket on a resupply mission, SpaceX is back on track with both its cargo deliveries to the International Space Station — and its ability to reuse its rocket boosters. While the payload took off for the sky, the Falcon 9‘s rocket booster made a successful vertical landing on an ocean platform without falling over.

Its Dragon cargo capsule docked with the station on April 10th and brought with it 7.000 pounds of supplies for the astronauts stationed up there — including lettuce seeds, mice and an inflatable room called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, for short.

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Ransomware — malware that encrypts all the data on your computer until you pay up —has been making a comeback this year thanks to social engineering and the usual tricks, but the white hats are fighting back with a a decryption tool that can unlock files held hostage by the Petya ransomware. The decryption tool is a bit technical and probably not for the novice, but it’s a good punch in the fight against crime.

The State of New York is getting serious about distracted driving. A bill in the New York State Senate would require drivers involved in collisions to submit their phones at the crash site for analysis to see if they were texting while driving.

Also in New York, the U.S. Attorney’s office notified a federal judge in Brooklyn that the government plans to move forward with its request to make Apple help them unlock an iPhone related to a dealer in a local drug case. Encryption Wars, Round II.

Google is beta-testing its Voice Access accessibility feature that lets users open apps and navigate screens without using their hands. The beta test is full, but stay tuned.

And finally, while Google Glass may have bombed as a consumer product, the Internet-empowered eyeglasses have found fans with neuroatypical kids. Stanford University’s Autism Glass Project is using the Google specs as a learning aid for autistic teenagers trying to learn social interactions, emotions, recognize facial expressions or even make eye contact. Stanford researchers have created special software to use with the glasses and early results have shown improvement in social acuity for some participants. Perhaps Google Glass has found its mission at last.

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PTJ 184 News: Never Mind

Well, after all that legal grandstanding and trying to force Apple to build a back door in its mobile operating system, the Justice Department went back to court this week to say: Never mind. Thanks to help from a third-party volunteer hacking specialist, the FBI says it is now rolling through the encrypted data that was harvested from the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist.

So now that the whole incident is over, what was it about? Some argue that corporate compliance is mandatory in this dangerous era of terror. Others, including famed NSA leaker Edward Snowden, have gone on record saying the FBI could have gotten into the phone on its own and the whole thing was about establishing a legal precedent. So, until next time…

Speaking of Apple’s iOS software, the company has acknowledged bugs in its recent 9.3 update. Patch on the way!

instagramInstagram’s previously announced move to using algorithms  in feeds has caused a bit of a panic in the Insta-community, so that’s why you’ve been inundated by people asking you to turn on notifications so that their posts will not get buried. No word on when that change to the system  going live, but Instagram did announce this week that it was increasing the maximum running time of posted video from 15 seconds to 60 seconds.

Twitter celebrated its 10th-anniversary last week and this week, the company’s Periscope app for live-streaming video celebrated its one-year anniversary from its official launch date. Periscope has reportedly been used for 200 million live video broadcasts and not all of them were Game of Thrones or House of Cards bootlegs.

People poking around in Facebook Messenger code say they’ve found evidence that points to the potential to make purchases in retail stores and fund them with Apple Pay, all without leaving the Messenger app. Facebook has made no announcements yet, nor on reports that it’s also working on Snapchat-like self-destructing messages called Secret Conversations. (But, while we’re talking bout Snapchat, that company has just released what it calls Chat 2.0, which lets users easily tap between text, audio and video chat.)

riftIn gaming news, reviews of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset are starting to pop up around the web, including one from Brian X. Chen at The New York Times who called it a well-built hardware system brimming with potential. However, the first wave of apps and software will probably only appeal to hard-core gamers.

Sony is also stepping up the graphics in its console games and said it plans to release an updated version of its PlayStation 4 machine later this year. The current PlayStation 4 model would stick around, but it would add a newer version with enough mojo to handle virtual reality and other visually intense gaming experiences.

Vimeo announced this week that it’s made some updates to its channel on the Roku set-top box. As explained in a blog post on the company site, you can now you can rent or buy films and video series directly from their creators right there on your Roku TV.

Audio-sharing site SoundCloud is also stepping things up with a new subscription service here in the States called SoundCloud Go.

Oracle is not happy with Google over a little matter of copyright and is suing the Big G for use of Java in the Android operating system. Oracle seeking 9.3 billion dollars in damages. Google, for its part, has other things on its mind this week, like its new Fiber Phone service, which brings unlimited and nationwide phone calls to homes with Google Fiber broadband service for $10 a month.

fiber

Yahoo’s financial woes have not gotten any better this year and the company announced it’ll be accepting bids for its web business and Asian assets. The Wall Street Journal reports the company has set an April 11th deadline for preliminary bids from interested buyers. Perhaps Yahoo can throw a few departments up on eBay.

And finally, if you don’t live in the States or you’re too broke to buy one of those handy Amazon Echo speakers that does your bidding when you give it verbal commands, you can build your own with an inexpensive Raspberry Pi barebones computers and a little time. Novaspirit Tech has a demo video:

Lest you think this is an unauthorized adventure, Amazon itself has posted its own instructions on GitHub for getting the hardware working with its Alexa Voice Service. So, if you need a summer project this year when you’re not picking up Yahoo properties at a weekend tag sale, consider the DIY Raspberry Echo.

 

PTJ 182 News: Tales from the Encrypt

What’s up, WhatsApp?  As The New York Times reported last weekend, government officials are said to be privately debating about what to do in their similar ongoing squabble with WhatsApp. The program’s encryption is mucking up the Justice Department’s ability to peek at messages, even though it has a judge’s wiretap order to investigate. In a related story, The Guardian of London reports that Facebook, Google and Snapchat plan to step up their encryption to protect the data of their customers.

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Apple is due to appear in a federal court in Riverside, California, on March 22 to fight the order that started this most recent squabble over privacy vs. security. Perhaps not so incidentally, the company has confirmed its next Apple Event to Reveal New Products to be on March 21st, just as the Apple-watching blogs predicted. But as the legal battles rage, Adam Segal and Alex Grigsby of the Council on Foreign Relations have an essay in The Los Angeles Times that lays out what they call three realistic solutions to prevent further fights over encryption. Will anybody try them out?

The South By Southwest festival has been going on the past week, but some outlets like CNBC are reporting a diminished interest in the interactive side of the event, which could explain the relatively low-key media coverage. Or perhaps the media is just preoccupied with a certain 2016 Presidential election.

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In happier news, Microsoft announced this week that the Xbox One will soon support cross-network gameplay, meaning people using Xbox Live with their Xboxes or Windows 10 hardware could, in theory, be able to frag players using other hardware like the Sony PlayStation 4. Microsoft has also just updated the web version of Skype. and if you’re not paying attention, the company will update your Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 computer to Windows 10.

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Adobe’s Experience Design CC is now out in preview for Mac users. The program was specifically created for user-experience designers who make mock-ups for interfaces and whatnot. The preview has that nice price of free.

Amazon has filed a patent that lets people pay by selfie. Smile for the cashier, please.

Google is inviting interested parties to hack its Chromebooks. Few have shown interest in doing so, but to sweeten the pot, they’ve upped the top reward for major bug discovery to $100,000.

Could robots replace salespeople in retail stores? Researchers as Osaka University in Japan have been studying and testing real-life jobs for robots and found that people react  well when the robots are used for things like foreign-language practice, or as retail associates because they don’t nag the human to do more — or buy more .

And finally, speaking of artificial intelligence, Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo computer, which we mentioned a few weeks ago on the show, has defeated the Korean grandmaster Lee Sedol in a best-of-five series of the ancient game of Go. Artificial intelligence has already kicked human butt in chess and on Jeopardy, but how will AI do at Cards Against Humanity?

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PTJ 181 News: Full Court Press

fccCould the digital divide in America be closing just a bit? The Federal Communications Commission has tweaked its plan for low-cost broadband Internet access and presented a proposal to its members this week that brings broadband service for $9.25 a month. The new broadband plan is an update to its 1985 Lifeline program to subsidize landline service for qualifying low-income consumers and the 2008 enhancement to the plan to include mobile-phone help. Lifeline has gotten the usual government-program charges of fraud, waste and abuse (and other gripes) from its detractors, like what counts as average broadband speed. The FCC countered by saying it does have some fraud-prevention measures. Some providers like Sprint don’t care for the proposed reforms to the Lifeline program, but a vote on the new system by FCC members is expected on March 31st.

Facebook is making its Instant Articles feature easier to use for people who aren’t even major media organizations. The company said a few weeks ago that it was opening up the Instant Articles feature to all publishers and this week, Facebook announced a new open-source plug-in for WordPress.  The opening of Instant Articles For All is expected to happen in time for the company’s annual F8 Conference in San Francisco next month. In an even more reassuring development, Facebook also awarded $15,000 to a hacker who demonstrated how he could use basic software to crack open the account of any user on the service. Yes, Facebook has since fixed the flaw in its system.

Mozilla, which recently bailed out, er, pivoted, on its Firefox OS for smartphones, is moving into the Internet of Things, where appliances rule the 802.11 airwaves. In a post on the Mozilla blog, the company outlined four new projects designed to integrate Firefox technologies into connected devices and asked for volunteers to help test out the new stuff. If you are a developer and are interested in working on any of it, check out Project Link, Project Sensor Web, Project Smart Home or Project Vaani.

In gaming news, Capcom is spanking players who rage-quit its Street Fighter V game by docking their League Points for bad behavior.  So there! And Microsoft it just announced it was canceling development of its Fable Legends game for Xbox and closing Lionhead Studios in the United Kingdom and Press Play Studios in Denmark.

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Also over in the House of Microsoft, the company has now enabled Skype chat right from OneDrive when you are collaborating on an Office Online document and just have to talk it out with your co-authors. And whispers around Redmond say Microsoft has pushed back the next big upfate to Windows 10, codenamed Redstone 2 from later this year to until spring of 2017 to better align with new device hardware on the way. No comment from Microsoft so far.

There’s a reportedly nasty piece of OS X ransomware out there, looking to lock up your Mac until you pay up. The malware, called KeRanger, only affects the Transmission BitTorrent client installer. If you use the program, here’s a link to more information. If you don’t use the program, you can skip the freak-out.

craigIn other Apple-related news, the Department of Justice is appealing last week’s federal court ruling in Brooklyn that said the government could not use the centuries-old All Writs Act force Apple to unlock a user’s iPhone. And Craig Federighi (shown here), Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering and fabulous hair, recently wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post explaining Apple’s stance in its ongoing fight with the FBI. Security experts have also weighed in on the matter in a recent Bloomberg News article that says the FBI should just hack the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone themselves since it would be faster.  There’s also some worry that if the US government forces Apple to start unlocking iPhones left and right for security reasons, the European Union privacy regulators will delay their verdict on the EU-US privacy shield agreement. (In other not-so-good legal news for Apple, the Supreme Court has declined to listen to the company’s appeal for the e-book price fixing case. Cue the sound of a very large check being written.)

Also in Europe, Google, Indexer of the Past, is expanding the European court-ordered Right to Be Forgotten.  However,  Americans mortified by their pasts lurking online still have nowhere to complain, even though a consumer advocacy group petitioned the Federal Trade Commission last year to make Google allow us Yanks to forget our documented-and- digitized discretions as well.

Verizon Wireless is having its own issues with the concept of privacy. The Federal Communications Commission (clearly having a busy year so far) has slapped the telecom giant with a $1.35 million dollar fine and a a three-year consent decree to settle the case of the privacy-chomping supercookies that first surfaced in 2014.

fiWhen it comes to Internet service providing, Google is mainly known for its Google Fiber broadband, but the company also has a lesser-known cellphone service that piggybacks on Sprint and T-Mobile networks. It’s called Project Fi and the reason you may have not heard of it before is that it was invitation-only since it launched last year. But as of this week, anybody with a Nexus 6, 6P or 5X can  get Project Fi service. You just need to go to (where else?) the Sign Up page to get started.

Amazon, keeping an eye on Apple’s legal punch-up with the DOJ, has now weighed in and said it was going to restore the device encryption capabilities it just yanked out of its Fire OS 5 software. Amazon said it originally took out the feature because no one was using it, but has now decided to re-enable the feature in an update to the system this spring.

rayAnd finally, we here at Pop Tech Jam offer out condolences to the family of Ray Tomlinson, the programmer credited with the modern invention of electronic mail with the groovy little @ sign back in 1971. Mr. Tomlinson passed away last week at the age of 74. He was a member of the Internet Hall of Fame and said he picked the @ sign because it just “made sense.”  Thank you, Ray Tomlinson, for setting the standard.

PTJ 180 News: Down to Earth

From coast to coast, Apple is having quite a time with the legal system. The company may still be at a standoff with the Justice Department about unlocking a terrorist’s iPhone out in California, but here in New York’s Eastern District court, a federal judge has ruled that the government can’t use the 227-year-old All Writs Act to force the company to unlock the phone belonging to a drug dealer. The New York case is separate from the ongoing fight in California and the two situations involve different aspects of iOS encryption, however. In California, Apple filed a motion in court last week to vacate the order that it cooperate with the FBI. One of Apple’s lawyers spent his Tuesday in Washington, testifying in front of the House Committee on the Judiciary.

9to5Mac and other sources are now reporting that rumored Apple’s upcoming spring event has moved back a week from around March 15th and will now be in the week of March 21st. No invitations yet, though! It’s not real until you see the invitation!

In app news, Google has also given iPhone users a bit of parity with its Android peeps by adding the “pit stops” feature to the iOS version of Google Maps. And, in a reverse for the Reuters TV app we talked about a few months ago — the one that was that was only available for iOS — the company has now released an Android version.

One of Google’s self-driving cars smacked into a city bus in California last month, which has the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority investigating things. Google admitted its Lexus RX450h auto-piloted vehicle bears “some responsibility” for the incident.

Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headset looks like it’s actually becoming a reality for developers. The dev kit edition is now available for pre-order from the company, with a chunky $3,000 price tag and delivery on March 30th.  Also new, but slightly cheaper: The Raspberry Pi 3 barebones computer is now on sale for a mere $35.

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In drone developments, a new model from DJI has the ability to sense and avoid obstacles in its way, and also, to track people and animals. The DJI Phantom 4 costs about $1400 and follows its subjects automatically using cameras, sensors and ActiveTrack technology. Also tracking: Sleep cycles. Over on the Medium site, a Danish developer posted the results of a little project he did that used the Last Active timestamp data gleaned from the web-based version of Facebook’s Messenger service to figure out the sleeping patterns of his Facebook pals. Facebook was not too happy about his work and someone else using the same data they collect about you themselves, and was fussing because he posted the code for the project online.

McDonald’s has noticed the low-budget virtual-reality craze brought on by the Google Cardboard viewer and is busting a move of its own — in Sweden. The fast-food giant is launching a promotion there over the next couple weekends, and it lets kids fold their Happy meal boxes onto VR viewers to see a smartphone-based VR game especially created for the occasion. These special meal containers are called Happy Goggles and yes, you get fries with that.

The Brita filter people have joined up Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service to create the $45 Wi-Fi Brita Infinity Smart Water Pitcher that automatically orders more Brita filters when it needs them. No word on if the pitcher has any tiny cameras embedded in its lid so it can scope out what else in in your fridge and report back to Amazon.

Sony has a new beta out for its PlayStation 4 software. Although the version 3.5 beta doesn’t contain the feature that allows you to remotely play PS4 games on a Mac or PC, the feature is coming along sooner than many anticipated.

And finally, Commander Scott Kelly is back on Earth this week after 340 days aboard the International Space Station.  Welcome home, sir!

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PTJ 179: Code Warriors

Questions, we have questions this week. Will Apple be able to stand up to the Justice Department over creating back doors into its software?  Will Old Media and New Media ever figure each other out? Will we soon be able to pay for purchases with our faces? These are just some of the talking points on this week’s episode of Pop Tech Jam as journalist Laura M. Holson rejoins El Kaiser and J.D. at the podcast table, fresh off her trip to last week’s Code/Media Conference in California.