Software

'Surkus' App Pays Users To Line Up Outside New Restaurants (chicagotribune.com) 114

A new app called Surkus allows restaurants to manufacture their ideal crowd and pay people to stand in place like extras on a movie set. The app reportedly uses "an algorithmic casting agent of sorts" to hand-pick people according to age, location, style and Facebook "likes." All of this is done to create the illusion that a restaurant is busy and worthy of your hard-earned money. Chicago Tribune reports: They may look excited, but that could also be part of the production. Acting disengaged while they idle in line could tarnish their "reputation score," an identifier that influences whether they'll be "cast" again. Nobody is forcing the participants to stay, of course, but if they leave, they won't be paid -- their movements are being tracked with geolocation. Welcome to the new world of "crowdcasting." Surkus raises new questions about the future of advertising and promotion. At a time when it has become commonplace for individuals to broadcast polished versions of their lives on social media, does Surkus give businesses a formidable tool to do the same, renting beautiful people and blending them with advertising in a way that makes reality nearly indiscernible? Or have marketers found a new tool that offers them a far more efficient way to link brands with potential customers, allowing individuals to turn themselves into living extensions of the share economy using a structured, mutually beneficial transaction? The answer depends on whom you ask.
The Internet

Cloudflare Stops Supporting Neo-Nazi Site The Daily Stormer (arstechnica.com) 484

Timothy B. Lee reports via Ars Technica: All week, the infamous hate site Daily Stormer has been battling to stay online in the face of a concerted social media campaign to shut it down. The site lost its "dailystormer.com" domain on Monday after first GoDaddy and then Google Domains blacklisted it from their domain registration services. The site re-appeared online on Wednesday morning at a new domain name, dailystormer.ru. But within hours, the site had gone offline again after it was dropped by Cloudflare, an intermediary that defends customers against denial-of-service attacks. Daily Stormer's Andrew Anglin reported Cloudflare's decision to drop the site in a post on the social media site Gab. His post was first spotted by journalist Matthew Sheffield.
Security

Shipping Company Maersk Says June Cyberattack Could Cost It Up To $300 Million (cnbc.com) 43

An anonymous reader shares an article: Container shipping company A.P. Moller Maersk on Tuesday said it expects that computer issues triggered by the NotPetya cyberattack will cost the company as much as $300 million in lost revenue. "In the last week of the [second] quarter we were hit by a cyber-attack, which mainly impacted Maersk Line, APM Terminals and Damco," Maersk CEO Soren Skou said in a statement. "Business volumes were negatively affected for a couple of weeks in July and as a consequence, our Q3 results will be impacted. We expect that the cyber-attack will impact results negatively by USD 200-300m." Maersk Line was able to take bookings from existing customers two days after the attack, and things gradually got back to normal over the following week, the company said. It said it did not lose third-party data as a result of the attack.
AI

Amazon Will Pay Developers With the Most Engaging Alexa Skills (venturebeat.com) 41

Amazon today announced a new program to bring revenue to developers of Alexa skills based on how much engagement their voice app is able to generate among users of Alexa-enabled devices. From a report: Amazon appears to be the first of the major tech companies with AI assistants and third-party integrations -- like Google, Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft -- with a program to compensate developers based on engagement created by their voice app. Metrics used to measure engagement of an Alexa skill include minutes of usage, new customers, customer ratings, and return visitors, an Amazon spokesperson told VentureBeat. Developers of Alexa skills in the U.S., U.K., and Germany are eligible to join. Developers with a skill active in all three countries will receive separate payments based on engagement in each country.
Businesses

Amazon Adds 'Instant Pickup Points' In US Brick-And-Mortar Push (reuters.com) 59

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Amazon is rolling out U.S. pickup points where shoppers can retrieve items immediately after ordering them, shortening delivery times from hours to minutes in its latest move into brick-and-mortar retail. The world's largest online retailer has launched 'Instant Pickup' points around five college campuses, such as the University of California at Berkeley, it said on Tuesday. Amazon has plans to add the program to more sites by the end of the year. Shoppers on Amazon's mobile app can select from several hundred fast-selling items at each location, from snacks and drinks to phone chargers. Amazon employees in a back room then load orders into lockers within two minutes, and customers receive bar codes to access them.
Software

App Developers Should Charge More If They Want People To Buy Subscriptions, Suggests Report (theverge.com) 50

A new report from Liftoff, a Silicon Valley-based mobile app marketing and retargeting firm, says that subscription-based apps may do better if developers charge a higher price for services, rather than setting prices too low to lure users in initially. The Verge reports: The Liftoff report, which analyzed data gathered between June 2016 and June 2017, categorized app subscriptions into low-cost monthly subs ($0.99 to $7), medium ($7 to $20), and high-cost subs ($20 to $50), while also factoring the cost of acquisition per customer. The company found that apps in the medium price range had the highest conversion rate -- 7.16 percent -- and the lowest cost to acquire a subscriber, at just over $106 dollars. This was five times higher than the rate of people who subscribed to apps when the apps were in the low-cost category. This may partly be because streaming media apps, like Netflix and Spotify, have already conditioned people to pay around $10 a month for services. But it also might be attributable to the sunk cost fallacy, Liftoff says: the "cognitive bias people have that makes them stay the course because they have already spent time or resources on it." The report also examines apps that fulfill "need states," like dating apps or cloud services. These have the potential to offer services that customers are willing to pay for, again and again. But, according to Liftoff, utility apps have a much higher install-to-subscriber rate compared to dating apps. Blame those who eventually find love?
Communications

Guam Radio Stations Accidentally Conduct Emergency Alert Amid North Korea Threat (theguardian.com) 50

the_webmaestro writes: A couple of radio stations in Guam conducted an unscheduled test of the Emergency Alert Broadcast System, sending some residents -- already on edge due to the back and forth between the North Korean regime and the tweets made by the President of the United States -- into a panic. From the Guam Homeland Security/Office of Civil Defense Facebook page: "The Offices of Guam Homeland Security and Civil Defense (GHS/OCD), in conjunction with the Mariana Regional Fusion Center (MRFC), our federal and military partners, continue to monitor the recent events surrounding North Korea and their threatening actions. Residents and visitors may have noticed at 12:25 a.m., an unscheduled test of the Emergency Alert Broadcast System (EAS) was triggered from KTWG/KSTO AM. The message read: 'A BROADCAST STATION OR CABLE SYSTEM HAS ISSUED A CIVIL DANGER WARNING FOR THE FOLLOWING COUNTIES/AREAS: Guam, Guam; AT 12:25 AM ON AUG 15, 2017 EFFECTIVE UNTIL 12:40 AM. MESSAGE FROM KTWGKSTO.' The unauthorized test was NOT connected to any emergency, threat or warning. GHS/OCD has worked with KSTO to ensure the human error will not occur again. There is no scheduled test of the EAS or All Hazards Alert Warning System sirens today."

In addition, the Guam Power Authority (GPA) reported there were two scheduled outages, for emergency interruption of power, at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., August 14: "Unrelated to the EAS unauthorized test, the Guam Power Authority (GPA) reported there were two scheduled outages, for emergency interruption of power, at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., August 14 for customers located in Talofofo located along along Rte.17, Chalan J. Kindo, Vicente Borja Dr., Felix Dydasco St., Henry Simpson area to bus shelter by Bishop Street and other customers in these locations."

Businesses

Netflix Co-Founder's Crazy Plan: Pay $10 a Month, Go to the Movies All You Want (bloomberg.com) 273

Mitch Lowe, a founder of Netflix, has a crazy idea. Through his new startup MoviePass, he wants to subsidize our film habit, letting us go to the theater once a day for about the price of a single ticket. From a report: Lowe, an early Netflix executive who now runs a startup called MoviePass, plans to drop the price of the company's movie ticket subscriptions on Tuesday to $9.95. The fee will let customers get in to one showing every day at any theater in the U.S. that accepts debit cards. MoviePass will pay theaters the full price of each ticket used by subscribers, excluding 3D or Imax screens. MoviePass could lose a lot of money subsidizing people's movie habits. So the company also raised cash on Tuesday by selling a majority stake to Helios and Matheson Analytics, a small, publicly traded data firm in New York. [...] Theater operators should certainly welcome any effort to increase sales. The top four cinema operators, led by AMC Entertainment, lost $1.3 billion in market value early this month after a disappointing summer.
Microsoft

Microsoft Blamed Intel For Its Own Bad Surface Drivers (thurrott.com) 169

Paul Thurrott reveals a new internal Microsoft memo from corporate vice president Panos Panay which acknowledges "some quality issues" with their launch of Surface Book and Surface Pro 4. But an anonymous reader quotes a darker story from Thurrott.com: Multiple senior Microsoft officials told me at the time that the issues were all Intel's fault, and that the microprocessor giant had delivered its buggiest-ever product in the "Skylake" generation chipsets. Microsoft, first out of the gate with Skylake chips, thus got caught up by this unreliability, leading to a falling out with Intel... Since then, however, another trusted source at Microsoft has provided me with a different take on this story. Microsoft, I'm told, fabricated the story about Intel being at fault.

The real problem was Surface-specific custom drivers and settings that the Microsoft hardware team cooked up. The Skylake fiasco came to a head internally when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella met with Lenovo last year and asked the firm, then the world's biggest maker of PCs, how it was dealing with the Skylake reliability issues. Lenovo was confused. No one was having any issues, he was told. I assume this led to some interesting conversations between the members of the Microsoft senior leadership team. But the net result was that Microsoft had to push out some existing designs quickly to get ahead of the reliability issues.

The Surface Book ultimately had a 17% return rate after its late-2015 launch, while the Surface Pro 4's return rate was 16%. So though Microsoft later pushed to improve subsequent releases, Panay's memo claims that "These improvements were unfortunately not reflected in the results of this [Consumer Reports] survey." The memo also reiterates high customer-satisfaction metrics, which Thurrott says "supports the contention that I made two days ago... Customers who spend more on premium products tend to be more satisfied even when they are unreliable because they need to justify their own decision-making process."

"He also suggests that what Consumer Reports calls a 'failure' is perhaps overly-broad and that some incidents -- like a frozen screen or unresponsive touch -- are not 'failures' but are rather just minor incidents that are easily rectified by the user."
Businesses

Some Retailers Criticize Amazon's Recall of Eclipse Glasses (kgw.com) 150

An anonymous reader quotes Portland TV station KGW: Amazon issued a widespread recall for solar eclipse glasses early Saturday morning, one week before the August 21 eclipse. That move stunned some sellers who say their glasses are verified safe.... "We recommend that you DO NOT use this product to view the sun or the eclipse," Amazon wrote... "Out of an abundance of caution, we have proactively reached out to customers and provided refunds for eclipse glasses that may not comply with industry standards." At least a dozen KGW viewers said they received recall notices from Amazon Saturday... KGW viewer Heather Andersen said she bought two separate sets of solar glasses and learned both were not verified. "I give up," she tweeted...

Manish Panjwani's Los Angeles-based astronomy product business, AgenaAstro, has sold three times its average monthly revenue in the past month. Ninety-five percent is related to the solar eclipse... Panjwani's eclipse glasses come from two NASA-approved sellers: Thousand Oaks Optical in Arizona and Baader Planetarium in Germany. He said he provided documentation to Amazon proving the products' authenticity weeks ago, with no response from Amazon. On Saturday morning, he woke up to 100 emails from customers after Amazon issued a recall for his products. "People have some of the best glasses in the world in their hands right now and they don't believe in that product," he said. "They're out there looking for something inferior." Panjwani said Amazon is temporarily retaining some of his profits because of the recall. He also has almost 5,000 glasses at an Amazon warehouse, which customers can no longer purchase. "That's just sitting there. I cannot sell it and I cannot get it back in time for the eclipse," he said.

Bug

Hundreds Of Smart Locks Get Bricked By A Buggy Firmware Update (bleepingcomputer.com) 119

An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: On Tuesday, August 8, smart locks manufacturer LockState botched an over-the-air firmware update for its WiFi enabled [RemoteLock 6i] smart locks, causing the devices to lose connectivity to the vendor's servers and the ability to open doors for its users... The device costs $469 and is sold mainly to Airbnb hosts via an official partnership LockState has signed with the company. Hosts use the smart locks to configure custom access codes for each Airbnb renter without needing to give out a physical key to each one. The botched firmware bricked the device's smart code access mode. Physical keys continued to work. The botched firmware was a nuisance for private home owners, but it was a disaster for Airbnb hosts, who had to scramble to get customers physical keys so they could enter their rents.
The post includes tweets from angry lock owners, one complaining about a two-week wait for a replacement. The company is also offering to fix the defective units within "5-7 days," promising that "Every employee and resource at LockState is focused on resolving this for you as quickly as possible."
The Military

Military Tech Could Be Amazon's Secret To Cheap, Non-Refrigerated Food (cnbc.com) 80

According to CNBC, Amazon is exploring a technology first developed for the U.S. military to produce tasty prepared meals that do not need refrigeration, as it looks for new ways to muscle into the $700 billion U.S. grocery business. From the report: The world's biggest online retailer has discussed selling ready-to-eat dishes such as beef stew and a vegetable frittata as soon as next year, officials at the startup firm marketing the technology told Reuters. The dishes would be easy to stockpile and ship because they do not require refrigeration and could be offered quite cheaply compared with take-out from a restaurant. Delivering meals would build on the company's AmazonFresh service, which has been delivering groceries to customers' homes for a decade. It could also complement Amazon's planned $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods Market and Amazon's checkout-free convenience store, which is in the test stage.

The pioneering food-prep tech, known as microwave assisted thermal sterilization, or MATS, was developed by researchers at Washington State University, and is being brought to market by a venture-backed startup called 915 Labs, based in Denver. The method involves placing sealed packages of food in pressurized water and heating them with microwaves for several minutes, according to 915 Labs. Unlike traditional processing methods, where packages are in pressure cookers for up to an hour until both bacteria and nutrients are largely gone, the dishes retain their natural flavor and texture, the company said. They also can sit on a shelf for a year, which would make them suitable for Amazon's storage and delivery business model.

Businesses

Why Amazon's UK Tax Bill Has Dropped 50% (bbc.com) 139

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Amazon has seen a 50% fall in the amount of UK corporation tax it paid last year, while recording a 54% increase in turnover for the same period. This snippet of news raised eyebrows this morning when it was revealed. So what's going on? Taxes are paid on profit not turnover. It paid lower taxes because it made lower profits. Last year it made 48 million British Pounds (BP) or ~$62 million U.S. dollars (USD) in profit -- this year it made only 24 million BP or ~$31 million USD so it paid 7 million BP (~$9 million USD) tax compared to 15 million BP (~$19 million USD). What is more interesting is WHY its profits were lower. Part of the reason is the way it pays its staff. Amazon UK Services is the division which runs the fulfillment centers which process, package and post deliveries to UK customers. It employs about 16,000 of the 24,000 people Amazon have in the UK. Each full-time employee gets given at least 1,000 BP (~$1,297 USD) worth of shares every year. They can't cash them in immediately -- they have to hold them for a period of between one and three years.

If Amazon's share price goes up in that time, those shares are worth more. Amazon's share price has indeed gone up over the past couple of years -- a lot. In fact, in the past two years the share price has nearly doubled, so 1,000 BP (~$1,297 USD) in shares granted in August 2015 are now worth nearly 2,000 BP (~$2,595 USD). Staff compensation goes up, compensation is an expense, expenses can be deducted from revenue -- so profits are lower and so are the taxes on those profits.

Transportation

VC Firm Benchmark Capital, An Early Investor In Uber, Sues Travis Kalanick For Fraud (axios.com) 21

Dan Primack, reporting for Axios: The battle between Benchmark Capital and Travis Kalanick just went nuclear, with the venture capital firm suing the former Uber CEO for fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. The complaint was filed earlier today in Delaware Chancery Court. Key graph, per the suit: "Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber, to entrench himself on Uber's Board of Directors and increase his power over Uber for his own selfish ends. Kalanick's overarching objective is to pack Uber's Board with loyal allies in an effort to insulate his prior conduct from scrutiny and clear the path for his eventual return as CEO -- all to the detriment of Uber's stockholders, employees, driver-partners, and customers." Why it matters: If Benchmark's suit is successful, Kalanick would be kicked off Uber's board of directors -- thus eliminating any faint hopes of him returning to the company in a substantial role.
Iphone

Apple Refuses To Enable iPhone Emergency Settings that Could Save Countless Lives (thenextweb.com) 279

An anonymous reader shares a report: Despite being relatively easy, Apple keeps ignoring requests to enable a feature called Advanced Mobile Location (AML) in iOS. Enabling AML would give emergency services extremely accurate locations of emergency calls made from iPhones, dramatically decreasing response time. As we have covered before, Google's successful implementation of AML for Android is already saving lives. But where Android users have become safer, iPhone owners have been left behind. The European Emergency Number Association (EENA), the organization behind implementing AML for emergency services, released a statement today that pleads Apple to consider the safety of its customers and participate in the program: "As AML is being deployed in more and more countries, iPhone users are put at a disadvantage compared to Android users in the scenario that matters most: An emergency. EENA calls on Apple to integrate Advanced Mobile Location in their smartphones for the safety of their customers." Why is AML so important? Majority of emergency calls today are made from cellphones, which has made location pinging increasingly more important for emergency services. There are many emergency apps and features in development, but AML's strength is that it doesn't require anything from the user -- no downloads and no forethought: The process is completely automated. With AML, smartphones running supporting operating systems will recognize when emergency calls are being made and turn on GNSS (global navigation satellite system) and Wi-Fi. The phone then automatically sends an SMS to emergency services, detailing the location of the caller. AML is up to 4,000 times more accurate than the current systems -- pinpointing phones down from an entire city to a room in an apartment. "In the past months, EENA has been travelling around Europe to raise awareness of AML in as many countries as possible. All these meetings brought up a recurring question that EENA had to reply to: 'So, what about Apple?'" reads EENA's statement.
Communications

A New Way to Tell Your Airline You Hate It (bloomberg.com) 50

An anonymous reader shares a report: Airlines -- an industry not known for stellar customer interactions -- are joining the party, and not just to break the bad news about your flight. They're inviting you to ask questions, and maybe even complain. Two airlines have dipped their wings into the waters of two-way texting. Hawaiian Holdings's Hawaiian Airlines is adding the feature while JetBlue Airways took a stake in a software startup that will allow its call center staff to start texting customers in the coming months. Texting, technically called SMS (which stands for short message service), is arguably the world's most favored form of communication, but much of corporate America has been slow to adapt. The few that have -- including Verizon Wireless retailers, British telecom company Sky UK, and Nestle SA's frozen foods division -- are dwarfed by an array of local commerce, from insurance agents, veterinarians, air conditioning techs, and auto dealers who have already jumped in to conduct their business.
Microsoft

Kaspersky Drops Antitrust Complaint After Microsoft Promises To Make Changes To Windows 10 (theverge.com) 31

Security firm Kaspersky said Thursday it was withdrawing its European antitrust complaint against Microsoft after the software giant promised to make changes to the upcoming Windows 10 Fall Creators Update that have appeased Kaspersky and help its anti-virus software provide notifications and alerts to renew virus definitions. From a report: Kaspersky originally filed its complaint back in June, claiming that Microsoft disabled its anti-virus software during Windows upgrades and that the software maker was using its dominance to "fiercely promote" its own Windows Defender software. Microsoft admitted in late June that Windows 10 prompts to install a new version of anti-virus from third parties like Kaspersky after an update, but it disables the old version if it's not compatible. Microsoft now says it "will work more closely with AV vendors to help them with compatibility reviews in advance of each feature update becoming available to customers." The software maker will also provide better visibility of release schedules for Windows 10 updates, giving anti-virus vendors more time to test changes.
Android

T-Mobile To Launch Its Own Branded Budget Smartphone (cnet.com) 16

In a throwback to a time when carriers differentiated themselves by branding and selling exclusive phones, T-Mobile announced Wednesday that it's launching its very own budget Android smartphone called the Revvl. CNET reports: The Revvl, which runs on Android Nougat, offers pretty basic specs: a 5.5 inch HD display, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. But it also throws in a fingerprint sensor and will cost T-Mobile customers just $5 a month with no down payment through the company's Jump! upgrade program. It goes on sale Thursday. In a blog post, T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert said the company is catering to those who want the latest smartphone technology but can't afford to pay for high-end devices.
Privacy

Disney Sued For Allegedly Spying On Children Through 42 Gaming Apps (washingtonpost.com) 40

schwit1 shares a report from The Washington Post (Warning: may be paywalled; alternative source): The Walt Disney Co. secretly collects personal information on some of their youngest customers and shares that data illegally with advertisers without parental consent, according to a federal lawsuit filed late last week in California. The class-action suit targets Disney and three other software companies -- Upsight, Unity and Kochava -- alleging that the mobile apps they built together violate the law by gathering insights about app users across the Internet, including those under the age of 13, in ways that facilitate "commercial exploitation."

The plaintiffs argue that Disney and its partners violated COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law designed to protect the privacy of children on the Web. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California, seeks an injunction barring the companies from collecting and disclosing the data without parental consent, as well as punitive damages and legal fees. The lawsuit alleges that Disney allowed the software companies to embed trackers in apps such as "Disney Princess Palace Pets" and "Where's My Water? 2." Once installed, tracking software can then "exfiltrate that information off the smart device for advertising and other commercial purposes," according to the suit. Disney should not be using those software development companies, said Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "These are heavy-duty technologies, industrial-strength data and analytic companies whose role is to track and monetize individuals," Chester said. "These should not be in little children's apps."
Disney responded to the lawsuit, saying: "Disney has a robust COPPA compliance program, and we maintain strict data collection and use policies for Disney apps created for children and families. The complaint is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles, and we look forward to defending this action in court."
Robotics

AI Factory Boss Will Tell Workers and Robots How To Work Together (fastcompany.com) 54

tedlistens writes from a report via Fast Company: Robots are consistent, indefatigable workers, but they don't improvise well. Changes on the assembly line require painstaking reprogramming by humans, making it hard to switch up what a factory produces. Now researchers at German industrial giant Siemens say they have a solution: a factory that uses AI to orchestrate the factory of the future, by both programming factory robots and handing out assignments to the humans working alongside them. The program, called a "reasoner," figures out the steps required to make a product, such as a chair; then it divides the assignments among machines based their capabilities, like how far a robotic arm can reach or how much weight it can lift. The team has proved the technology can work on a small scale with a test system that uses just a few robots to make five types of furniture (like stools and tables), with four kinds of leg configurations, six color options, and three types of floor-protector pads, for a total of 360 possible products.

Siemens's originally gave its automated factory project the badass Teutonic moniker "UberManufacturing." They weren't thinking of the German word connoting "superior," however, but rather of the on-demand car service. Part of their vision is that automated factories can generate bids for specialty, limited-run manufacturing projects and compete for customers in an online marketplace. "You could say, 'I want to build this stool,' and whoever has machines that can do that can hand in a quote, and that was our analogy to Uber," says Florian Michahelles, who heads the research group.

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