Close Encounters of the Third Kind is coming back for a 40th-anniversary run, but a couple of old standbys are getting boxed up for the software attic. El Kaiser and J.D. take a stroll through the week’s headlines and talk later about Google Street View — and how those who love it can make their own outdoor 360-images. Punch that Play button and come on along!
It’s almost like we needed the Justice League to come sort things out with all the disruptions erupting all over the technology scene this week. So, you ask, what happened? Yet another ransomware attack spread rapidly worldwide, the European Commission got all up in Google’s business on an antitrust charge, and Walmart had a slapfight with Amazon over the cloud. Meanwhile, Twitter and some of its pals are teaming up to fight the spread of violent extremism, Facebook wants to do TV and Apple’s getting ready to chuck a bunch of old apps off the iOS 11 wagon. But on the bright side, we’ve now had J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series with us for 20 years now. Come hang with El Kaiser and J.D. as they try to make sense of the week here on Episode 240 of Pop Tech Jam!
Nothing like a $14.6 billion bill for back taxes to get your attention, eh? That’s the hefty sum Apple is facing after a European Commission ruling this week found the company’s tax deal with Ireland was illegal under European Union rules. Apple and Ireland are both vowing to appeal the ruling, and in a letter released publicly on its website, Apple stated the ruling would have an impact on investment and job creation in Europe. The EU is also investigating Amazon and McDonald’s for similar practices.
Apple may have other legal woes brewing on this side of the pond as well. A nationwide class-action lawsuit was filed against the company by plaintiffs who claim that their iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones suffer from defecting screens that make them unresponsive. The defect was dubbed Touch Disease by the repair site iFixit, who has looked at the issue and found hundreds of ailing iPhones with flickering gray bars on glitchy screens.
Apple has set the date for its annual Fall Media Monopoly Event. As some predicted, it’ll be early this year — September 7th and at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. New iPhones and an arrival date for iOS 10 are expected to be announced for sure, and updates on macOS Sierra, watchOS, and tvOS could be in the mix, as well as hardware news about Apple Watch, the MacBook Pro laptops, the iPad Pro and other gear. But will there be One More Thing?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California tossed out a lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission in 2014 that accused AT&T of bandwidth-throttling customers who still had unlimited data plans after those customers went beyond customary allowances.
Facebook’s Trending Topics section has had its ups and downs this year with charges of political bias in story selection and promotion and last week, Facebook reportedly decided to get rid of the humans who were writing story descriptions for trending list and just have the algorithms start listing popular topics based on what users were sharing. However, a lot of Facebook users were sharing a false story about broadcaster Megyn Kelly getting fired from Fox News for being a liberal — so the fake story made it onto the trending list. Whoopsie!
On to the Department of Democracy Nightmares, the Federal Bureau of Investigation says it has evidence that hackers breached two state election databases this summer. While actual vote-counting systems were not involved YET, foreign-based hackers targeted voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois. Paper ballots for all this year, please.
While test drones are buzzing around the countryside of merry old England, here in the States, the Federal Aviation Administration just started giving the drone pilot’s-license test this week. More than 3300 people signed up to take the test on the first day. The Wired site has a study guide for wannabe drone jockeys.
And finally, the Centauri Dreams blog devoted to deep space exploration noted a radio telescope in Russia (shown here), had picked up “strong signal in the direction of HD164595” last year. HD 164595 is a star with at least planet in the system within the constellation Hercules, all about 95 light years from Earth. The site merely said the signal was interesting and deserved further scrutiny. Astronomers at the SETI Institute have already written a brief paper on the matter. Seasoned experts around the web were skeptical, with one noting the signal was on the part of the radio spectrum used by the military and another posting, “It’s not our first time at this rodeo, so we know how it works,” on a SETI message board. Sure, the signal may be nothing — but it kind of makes one want to haul out the Contact DVD for some Hollywood science and reinstall the SETI@home software on your current computer, you know?
Spyware isn’t just for hackers and sleazy software makers these days. Oppressive governments are also using it to crack down on dissidents, according to a recent story in The New York Times. In other ominous privacy news, a report from Reuters and other sources report that Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace has decreed that “Foreign messaging companies active in the country are required to transfer all data and activity linked to Iranian citizens into the country in order to ensure their continued activity.” The council has given companies one year to make the move. The Telegram messenger app, which was created by the Durov brothers, has a huge user base in Iran and could be a target here.
Facebook could also be stepping up its secure-texting game. The Guardian reports that The Social Network is working on an optional encryption setting for its Messenger app.
The Internet and politics can be a volatile mix, but the European Commission announced this week that it had worked with Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to come up with a code of conduct and policies designed to stop the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe. Meanwhile, over here in the States, enthusiasm seems to have fizzled out for new legislation that would require technology companies like Apple to provide handy back doors into their products for law-enforcement officials.
Not long after it snapped up AOL, Verizon is still shopping and in contention to buy up the crumbling Yahoo empire. If you’re wondering why, the Fast Company site has a big story out about how it all adds up to Verizon’s quest to complete with Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix with content and services.
Despite dips in PC sales, people are still making laptops and ASUS is going after Apple’s MacBook Air for the thinnest ‘n’ lightest ultrabook prize. The ASUS ZenBook 3, which has a body made of aerospace-grade aluminum alloy, was announced this week at the Computex show in Taipei. Like the newer MacBooks, the ZenBook 3 only has a USB-C port for peripheral connectivity, but the Windows-based device sports a 12.5-inch screen and weighs in around two pounds — just a few ounces lighter than the 12-inch MacBook Air.
ASUS announced new smartphones and a few other products, but the one that most people were talking about was its Zenbo Robot. The Zenbo is billed as “your smart little companion” can roll around the house at will doing all kinds of things. The Zenbo has a list price of $599 and will be available this year. Here’s a video of it:
One firm that seems to be getting out of the moving household robot business, however, is Google. The company bought Boston Dynamics in 2013, but now Google has put it up for sale. Some relationships just don’t work out.
The hills are alive with the sound of earnings calls! Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has now passed Apple and wins the Most Valuable Company prize. The murmurs started Monday night , when Alphabet’s market cap hit about $570 billion, shooting by Apple’s mere $535 billion. So Alphabet is on top, for now. And like Apple, blogs are reporting that Google may be preparing to take tighter control over its own Nexus hardware line, much like Apple’s iron grip on both the hardware and software for its iOS devices.
Speaking of iPhones, however, 9to5Mac.com is floating the idea that Apple will be having a big media event on March 15th to announce new hardware (including an iPad Air 3), but we haven’t seen any invitations yet. One thing Apple probably won’t be talking much about is the recent death of its ad-supported iTunes Radio service which only arrived in late 2013. If you try to play an old station you created and are not an Apple Music subscriber, you will get a nag alert telling you to sign up for Apple Music, where you can still use the stations as part of your subscription. Also in streaming music news, The Recording Industry Association of America has said it will now include on-demand audio and video streams and a track sale equivalent for calculating those Gold & Platinum Album Awards.
As announced on its site this week with the headline “Using Qualitative Feedback to Show Relevant Stories,” Facebook is making an change to the News Feed algorithm. Because that’s never happened before.
As threatened, er, promised last fall, Microsoft has switched the status of its Windows 10 update for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users from Optional to Recommended, so it may initiate the installation sequence on its own before it’s manually stopped. Let the howls from Windows 7 users (shown below) commence…
If you watch A LOT of television and find that two — or even four — TV tuners are just not enough, the DISH network is ready to help you out. It just released the DISH Hopper 3, a digital video recorder with a 16 tuners and built-in 4K resolution. The Hopper 3 is available for about $15 a month to Dish Network satellite TV customers.
Meanwhile, across the pond, the European Commission and the United States have resolved that little tussle over the old Safe Harbour system for American companies handling the privacy rights of Europeans. The new framework is to be called the EU-US Privacy Shield.
According to Open Signal’s “State of Mobile Networks: USA” report, T-Mobile has won three network comparison tests, including 3G download speeds and latency, as well as 4G speeds. Verizon had the most 4G coverage, so Big Red still gets some bragging rights.