Ford's Badly Needed Plan To Catch Up On Hybrid, Electric Cars ( 63

Ford supposedly has a plan to adapt to the changing world of transportation. The company recently announced that it's "going all-in on hybrids," readying six new battery electric vehicles by 2022, with the first due in 2020, and adding more performance versions of its SUV line up. "Additionally, by the end of 2019, every new Ford will have 4G LTE connectivity, and the company is developing a new cloud platform that will deliver over-the-air updates," reports Ars Technica. From the report: New hybrids: "Hybrids for years have been mostly niche products but are now on the cusp of a mainstream breakout," said Jim Farley, Ford president of global markets. "The valuable capability they offer -- plus fuel efficiency -- is why we're going to offer hybrid variants of our most popular and high-volume vehicles, allowing our loyal, passionate customers to become advocates for the technology." So America's best-selling truck (the F-150) will get the ability to act as a mobile generator, something that should come in handy on job sites. Meanwhile, the Mustang will have performance to match the 5.0L V8 version but with more low-down torque, according to Ford. The company says that these new hybrids will be cheaper and more efficient than its current hybrids, via "common cell and component design and by manufacturing motors, transmissions, and battery packs."

New BEVs: We have to wait for those new BEVs, too. The first of these -- an electric performance SUV -- also shows up in 2020, but with five more planned between then and 2022. Ford says that it's "rethinking the ownership experience" as part of this and that over-the-air software updates to add new features will be part of the $11 billion investment plan.

More SUVs, more commercial vehicles, a super Mustang: Other new vehicles on the way include a reborn Ford Bronco SUV and an as-yet unnamed small SUV, but before then we'll get redesigned Explorers and Escapes, due in 2019. Next year, Ford will also bring a new Transit van to the US, and it says advanced driver-assistance systems, like automatic emergency braking and others, will be added to future commercial vehicles like the future E-Series, F-650, F-750, and F59-based vehicles.


Verizon Will Fix Broadband Networks, Landlines To Resolve Investigation ( 71

Joel Hruska reports via ExtremeTech: Verizon has reached an agreement with the Communications Workers of America and the New York State Public Service Commission to begin repairing infrastructure and restoring service across New York State. The agreement requires Verizon to extend broadband service to tens of thousands of New York State households and to begin repairing facilities it has previously neglected. As in Pennsylvania, Verizon has been neglecting its fixed wired infrastructure in its bid to first sabotage copper service, then force customers to adopt alternative solutions. It's also been mired in an ongoing lawsuit with the state of New York over its breach of a 2008 contract requiring it to provide fiber service within New York City.

This new agreement appears to settle these issues, provided it's followed. Under its terms, Verizon will extend fiber to 10,000 to 12,000 households not currently served by it in Long Island and Verizon's "Upstate Reporting Region" (these are Verizon-specific regions, not geographical areas, so "Long Island" may mean more than just the island). It will begin immediately replacing copper lines in certain specific NYC buildings with high failure rates and transitioning them to fiber optic cable, repairing operations within 50 upstate wireless centers with high failure rates, allow plant technicians to report plant failures and maintenance needs more accurately, and begin inspecting and replacing the batteries that provide critical connectivity in the event of a power outage when said batteries are deployed for specific customers (hospitals, police stations, and other emergency facilities). It will also begin removing so-called "double poles." A double pole is when an old telephone pole is stapled (metaphorically speaking) to a newer one. Some examples of a double pole from PA are shown below; Verizon has been hauled into court to force it to do its job in more than one state.


Samsung Will Begin Offering Same-Day Repairs On Galaxy Phones This Week ( 19

hyperclocker shares a report from BGR: Samsung announced on Wednesday that it is partnering with uBreakiFix to bring same-day, in-person phone repairs to Galaxy device owners across the United States. Starting on March 15th, Samsung customers will be able to bring their phones to any of more than 300 uBreakiFix service locations and have their devices repaired on the spot and usually within two hours or less. Samsung plans to expand the program throughout 2018 as well. Galaxy owners will have the option to either schedule an appointment at a uBreakiFix location, or just drop the phone off without calling ahead. Samsung assures customers that all uBreakiFix repair centers will have genuine Samsung parts, proprietary Samsung tools for the repairs, and conduct repairs by Samsung certified pros.

Jewelry Site Leaks Personal Details, Plaintext Passwords of 1.3 Million Users ( 37

Chicago-based MBM Company's jewelry brand Limoges Jewelry has accidentally leaked the personal information for over 1.3 million people. This includes addresses, zip-codes, e-mail addresses, and IP addresses. The Germany security firm Kromtech Security, which found the leak via an unsecured Amazon S3 storage bucket, also claims the database contained plaintext passwords. The Next Web reports: In a press release, Kromtech Security's head of communicationis, Bob Diachenko, said: "Passwords were stored in the plain text, which is great negligence [sic], taking into account the problem with many users re-using passwords for multiple accounts, including email accounts." The [MSSQL database] backup file was named "MBMWEB_backup_2018_01_13_003008_2864410.bak," which suggests the file was created on January 13, 2018. It's believed to contain current information about the company's customers. Records held in the database have dates reaching as far back as 2000. The latest records are from the start of this year. Other records held in the database include internal mailing lists, promo-codes, and item orders, which leads Kromtech to believe that this could be the primary customer database for the company. Diachenko says there's no evidence a malicious third-party has accessed the dump, but that "that does not mean that nobody [has] accessed the data."

How Your Returns Are Used Against You At Best Buy, Other Retailers ( 197

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): At Best Buy, returning too many items within a short time can hurt a person's score, as can returning high-theft items such as digital cameras. Every time shoppers returns purchases to Best Buy, they are tracked by a company which has the power to override the store's touted policy and refuse to refund their money. That is because the electronics giant is one of several chains that have hired a service called The Retail Equation to score customers' shopping behavior and impose limits on the amount of merchandise they can return. Stores have long used generous return guidelines to lure more customers, but such policies also invite abuse. Retailers estimate 11% of their sales are returned, and of those, 11% are likely fraudulent returns, according to a 2017 survey of 63 retailers by the National Retail Federation. Return fraud or abuse occurs when customers exploit the return process, such as requesting a refund for items they have used, stolen or bought somewhere else. Inc. and other online players that have made it easy to return items have changed consumer expectations, adding pressure on brick-and-mortar chains. Some retailers monitor return fraud in-house, but Best Buy and others pay The Retail Equation to track and score each customer's return behavior for both in-store and online purchases. The service also works with Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Sephora and Victoria's Secret. Some retailers use the system only to assess returns made without a receipt. Best Buy uses The Retail Equation to assess all returns, even those made with a receipt.


Comcast 'Blocks' an Encrypted Email Service: Yet Another Reminder Why Net Neutrality Matters ( 105

Zack Whittaker, writing for ZDNet: For about twelve hours earlier this month, encrypted email service Tutanota seemed to fall off the face of the internet for Comcast customers. Starting in the afternoon on March 1, people weren't sure if the site was offline or if it had been attacked. Reddit threads speculated about the outage. Some said that Comcast was actively blocking the site, while others dismissed the claims altogether. Several tweets alerted the Hanover, Germany-based encrypted messaging provider to the alleged blockade, which showed a "connection timed out" message to Comcast users. It was as if to hundreds of Comcast customers, Tutanota didn't exist. But as soon as users switched to another non-Comcast internet connection, the site appeared as normal. "To us, this came as a total surprise," said Matthias Pfau, co-founder of Tutanota, in an email. "It was quite a shock as such an outage shows the immense power [internet providers] are having over our Internet when they can block sites...without having to justify their action in any way," he said.

By March 2, the site was back, but the encrypted email provider was none the wiser to the apparent blockade. The company contacted Comcast for answers, but did not receive a reply. When contacted, a Comcast spokesperson couldn't say why the site was blocked -- or even if the internet and cable giant was behind it. According to a spokesperson, engineers investigated the apparent outage but found there was no evidence of a connection breakage between Comcast and Tutanota. The company keeps records of issues that trigger incidents -- but found nothing to suggest an issue. It's not the first time Comcast customers have been blocked from accessing popular sites. Last year, the company purposefully blocked access to internet behemoth for more than 13 hours.


New Traces of Hacking Team in the Wild ( 19

Previously unreported samples of Hacking Team's infamous surveillance tool -- the Remote Control System (RCS) -- are in the wild, and have been detected by ESET systems in fourteen countries. From a report: Our analysis of the samples reveals evidence suggesting that Hacking Team's developers themselves are actively continuing the development of this spyware. Since being founded in 2003, the Italian spyware vendor Hacking Team gained notoriety for selling surveillance tools to governments and their agencies across the world. The capabilities of its flagship product, the Remote Control System (RCS), include extracting files from a targeted device, intercepting emails and instant messaging, as well as remotely activating a device's webcam and microphone. The company has been criticized for selling these capabilities to authoritarian governments -- an allegation it has consistently denied. When the tables turned in July 2015, with Hacking Team itself suffering a damaging hack, the reported use of RCS by oppressive regimes was confirmed. With 400GB of internal data -- including the once-secret list of customers, internal communications, and spyware source code -- leaked online, Hacking Team was forced to request its customers to suspend all use of RCS, and was left facing an uncertain future.

Twitter Suspends Numerous Popular Accounts That Are Known For Stealing Tweets ( 52

An anonymous reader shares a report: Continuing its battle against the "tweetdeckers," Twitter suspended on Friday several popular accounts known for stealing tweets or mass-retweeting tweets into manufactured virality. @Dory, @GirlPosts, @SoDamnTrue, Girl Code/@reiatabie, Common White Girl/@commonwhitegiri, @teenagernotes, @finah, @holyfag, and @memeprovider were among the accounts that got swept up in the purge. Many of these accounts were hugely popular, with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers. In addition to stealing people's tweets without credit, some of these accounts are known as "tweetdeckers" due to their practice of teaming up in exclusive Tweetdeck groups and mass-retweeting one another's -- and paying customers' -- tweets into forced virality. A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on individual accounts, but BuzzFeed News understands the accounts were suspended for violating Twitter's spam policy.

Elon Musk Changes 'Boring Company' Vision To Reward Cyclists and Pedestrians ( 152

"Remember Elon Musk's plan to dig a massive web of traffic-beating tunnels underneath Los Angeles...?" asks CNN. "Now, that plan appears to be getting a huge makeover." An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: While it will still focus on digging tunnels to provide a network of underground tubes suitable for use by high-speed Hyperloop pods, the plan now is to use that Hyperloop to transport pedestrians and cyclists first, and then only later to work on moving cars around underground to bypass traffic. Musk shared the update via Twitter, noting that the idea would be to load customers onto cars roughly the size that a single parking space takes up currently, [thousands of which] would be dotted around an urban environment close to any destinations where someone might travel. The single-car station model would be designed to replace the current subway-style model, Musk said, where only a few small stations are very spread out... This is a big departure from the original vision, and it seems like one that might have evolved after Musk and his collaborators on the project spoke to urban planners and transit authorities.
"If someone can't afford a car, they should go first," Musk posted on Twitter, sharing a new conceptual video where an elevator lowers one of these pedestrian- and cyclist-focussed shuttle pods underground.

TechCrunch says this new vision "would be appealing both to urban officials looking to decrease congestion on downtown roads and discourage personal vehicle use, and to anyone hoping to increase access to affordable transit options."

Cable Industry Finally Fights Cord Cutting With Fewer Ads ( 106

The cable industry is slowly realizing that more advertisements and higher prices aren't the solution to cord cutting. Karl Bode writes via DSLReports: AT&T and Dish have explored offering cheaper, more flexible streaming alternatives (DirecTV Now and Sling TV, respectively), both understanding that getting out ahead of the cord cutting trend is the right play, even if the net result is making less money from traditional television. And on the broadcasting front, several companies this month made it clear they'll be reducing the ad loads on their programming, since charging users a subscription fee and socking them with endless ads is becoming a dated concept in the cord cutting era. Fox, for example, told the Wall Street Journal this week that the company would be reducing TV ad time in its content to two minutes an hour by 2020. Comcast NBC Universal says it's also following suit, having cut advertising time in its own shows by 10%, and reduced the overall number of advertising during commercial breaks by 20%. Given there's 83 million households still subscribing to traditional cable TV, many cable executives are under the false impression they can keep doubling down on bad ideas without the check coming due. But the data indicates this head in the sand approach simply isn't sustainable. Pay TV providers saw a reduction of more than 500,000 traditional pay TV customers during the fourth quarter, a decline of 3.4% total pay TV customers from the year before. That 3.4% decline was up from the 2% rate during in the fourth quarter of 2016 and a 1% rate of decline one year before that.

'Flippy,' the Fast Food Robot, Turned Off For Being Too Slow ( 126

He was supposed to revolutionize a California fast food kitchen, churning out 150 burgers per hour without requiring a paycheck or benefits. But after a single day of working as a cook at a Caliburger location in Pasadena this week, Flippy the burger-flipping robot has stopped flipping. From a report: In some ways, Flippy was a victim of his own success. Inundated with customers eager to see the machine in action this week, Cali Group, which runs the fast food chain, quickly realized the robot couldn't keep up with the demand. They decided instead to retrain the restaurant staff to work more efficiently alongside Flippy, according to USA Today. Temporarily decommissioned, patrons encountered a sign Thursday noting that Flippy would be "cooking soon," the paper reported. "Mostly it's the timing," Anthony Lomelino, the Chief Technology Officer for Cali Group told the paper. "When you're in the back, working with people, you talk to each other. With Flippy, you kind of need to work around his schedule. Choreographing the movements of what you do, when and how you do it."

Android Beats iOS In Smartphone Loyalty, Study Finds 145

Android users don't appear to be switching to the iPhone like they used to. According to a new study from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), Android users have higher loyalty than iOS users do. "The research firm found that Android brand loyalty has been remaining steadily high since early 2016, and remains at the highest levels ever seen," reports TechCrunch. From the report: Today, Android has a 91 percent loyalty rate, compared with 86 percent for iOS, measured as the percentage of U.S. customers who stayed with their operating system when they upgraded their phone in 2017. From January 2016 through December 2017, Android loyalty ranged from 89 to 91 percent (ending at 91 percent), while iOS loyalty was several percentage points lower, ranging from 85 to 88 percent. Explains Mike Levin, partner and co-founder of CIRP, users have pretty much settled on their brand of choice at this point. "With only two mobile operating systems at this point, it appears users now pick one, learn it, invest in apps and storage, and stick with it. Now, Apple and Google need to figure out how to sell products and services to these loyal customer bases," he said. It's worth noting that Android hasn't always led in user loyalty as it does now. CIRP has been tracking these metrics for years, and things used to be the other way around.

Documents Prove Local Cops Have Bought Cheap iPhone Cracking Tech ( 101

GrayShift is a new company that promises to unlock even iPhones running the latest version of iOS for a relatively cheap price. From a report: In a sign of how hacking technology often trickles down from more well-funded federal agencies to local bodies, at least one regional police department has already signed up for GrayShift's services, according to documents and emails obtained by Motherboard. As Forbes reported on Monday, GrayShift is an American company which appears to be run by an ex-Apple security engineer and others who have long held contracts with intelligence agencies. In its marketing materials, GrayShift offers a tool called GrayKey, an offline version of which costs $30,000 and comes with an unlimited number of uses. For $15,000, customers can instead buy the online version, which grants 300 iPhones unlocks.

This is what the Indiana State Police bought, judging by a purchase order obtained by Motherboard. The document, dated February 21, is for one GrayKey unit costing $500, and a "GrayKey annual license -- online -- 300 uses," for $14,500. The order, and an accompanying request for quotation, indicate the unlocking service was intended for Indiana State Police's cybercrime department. A quotation document emblazoned with GrayShift's logo shows the company gave Indiana State Police a $500 dollar discount for their first year of the service. Importantly, according to the marketing material cited by Forbes, GrayKey can unlock iPhones running modern versions of Apple's mobile operating system, such as iOS 10 and 11, as well as the most up to date Apple hardware, like the iPhone 8 and X.


Comcast's Protected Browsing Is Blocking PayPal, Steam and TorrentFreak, Customers Say ( 82

Comcast's Xfinity internet customers have been reporting multiple websites, including PayPal, Steam, and TorrentFreak have been getting blocked by the ISP's "protected browsing" setting. From a report: The "protected browsing" setting is designed to "reduce the risk of accessing known sources of malware, spyware, and phishing for all devices connected to your home network." This, in general, isn't a bad thing. It's similar to Google Chrome's security settings that warn you when you have an insecure connection. But it's odd that Xfinity's security setting would be blocking perfectly harmless sites like PayPal. Multiple consumers have been reporting on Comcast's forums and elsewhere that they've been blocked while trying to access sites that many people use every day. After posting about it on the forums, one user who said they couldn't access PayPal said the problem with that particular site had been fixed. Further reading: Comcast's Protected Browsing Blocks TorrentFreak as "Suspicious" Site (TorrentFreak).

Amazon Launches a Low-Cost Version of Prime For Medicaid Recipients ( 88

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Amazon announced this morning it will offer a low-cost version of its Prime membership program to qualifying recipients of Medicaid. The program will bring the cost of Prime down from the usual $12.99 per month to about half that, at $5.99 per month, while still offering the full range of Prime perks, including free, two-day shipping on millions of products, Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Photos, Prime Reading, Prime Now, Audible Channels, and more. The new program is an expansion on Amazon's discounted Prime service for customers on government assistance, launched in June 2017. For the same price of $5.99 per month, Amazon offers Prime memberships to any U.S. customer with a valid EBT card -- the card that's used to disburse funds for assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program (WIC). Now that same benefit is arriving for recipients of Medicaid, the public assistance program providing medical coverage to low-income Americans. To qualify for the discount, customers must have a valid EBT or Medicaid card, the retailer says.

FBI Again Calls For Magical Solution To Break Into Encrypted Phones ( 232

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: FBI Director Christopher Wray again has called for a solution to what the bureau calls the "Going Dark" problem, the idea that the prevalence of default strong encryption on digital devices makes it more difficult for law enforcement to extract data during an investigation. However, in a Wednesday speech at Boston College, Wray again did not outline any specific piece of legislation or technical solution that would provide both strong encryption and allow the government to access encrypted devices when it has a warrant. A key escrow system, with which the FBI or another entity would be able to unlock a device given a certain set of circumstances, is by definition weaker than what cryptographers would traditionally call "strong encryption." There's also the problem of how to compel device and software makers to impose such a system on their customers -- similar efforts were attempted during the Clinton administration, but they failed. A consensus of technical experts has said that what the FBI has asked for is impossible. "I recognize this entails varying degrees of innovation by the industry to ensure lawful access is available," Wray said Wednesday. "But I just don't buy the claim that it's impossible. Let me be clear: the FBI supports information security measures, including strong encryption. Actually, the FBI is on the front line fighting cyber crime and economic espionage. But information security programs need to be thoughtfully designed so they don't undermine the lawful tools we need to keep the American people safe."

Uber Self-Driving Trucks Are Now Moving Cargo For Uber Freight Customers ( 52

Uber's autonomous trucks are now being put to work via Uber Freight, Uber's commercial cargo shipping on-demand app. "The first runs are being done in Arizona, with regular hauls operating with both human drivers and autonomous trucks working in tandem," reports TechCrunch. From the report: How it works is that Uber will load up the freight on a conventional, human driven truck who collects the load from the shipper and then does a short haul run to a transfer hub. The short haul truck then loads its cargo onto a long-haul freight transport, which is autonomous for the purposes of these trips. That self-driving test truck handles the highway driving for the longer portion of the trip, handing it off once again to a human-driven trip for the short haul cap to the overall journey. Uber Freight handles the load sourcing, just as it dos for connecting shippers with regular human truckers. Uber's Advanced Technology Group is simply deploying its self-driving trucks on the Uber Freight platform, in the same way that the autonomous team within Uber is using the Uber ride-hailing network to test and deploy its self-driving ride share vehicles. Uber has released a video depicting this journey.

FBI Paid Geek Squad Repair Staff As Informants ( 205

According to newly released documents by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, federal agents would pay Geek Squad employees to flag illegal materials on devices sent in by customers for repairs. "The relationship goes back at least ten years, according to documents released as a result of the lawsuit [filed last year]," reports ZDNet. "The agency's Louisville division aim was to maintain a 'close liaison' with Geek Squad management to 'glean case initiations and to support the division's Computer Intrusion and Cyber Crime programs.'" From the report: According to the EFF's analysis of the documents, FBI agents would "show up, review the images or video and determine whether they believe they are illegal content" and seize the device so an additional analysis could be carried out at a local FBI field office. That's when, in some cases, agents would try to obtain a search warrant to justify the access. The EFF's lawsuit was filed in response to a report that a Geek Squad employee was used as an informant by the FBI in the prosecution of child pornography case. The documents show that the FBI would regularly use Geek Squad employees as confidential human sources -- the agency's term for informants -- by taking calls from employees when they found something suspect.

Leaked Apple Email Hints at the Possible End of iTunes: Report ( 145

An anonymous reader shares a report: Apple could kill off iTunes in the near future, a new report suggests. It cites an email that Apple reportedly wrote to people in the music industry recently, announcing the "end of iTunes LPs." The iTunes LP format was first introduced in 2009 and let publishers add interactive artwork, along with assorted iTunes Extras, with their content. The LP format never achieved great popularity. However, the fact that Apple plans to ditch iTunes LPs in 2018 potentially hints at the possibility that Apple may stop selling iTunes music downloads in the near future. The Apple email announcing the change was reportedly sent two weeks ago from an address at "The iTunes Store" and signed by "The Apple Music Team." But its existence has only been highlighted now through a report by the U.K. newspaper The Metro. "Apple will no longer accept new submissions of iTunes LPs after March 2018," the letter notes. "Existing LPs will be deprecated from the store during the remainder of 2018. Customers who have previously purchased an album containing an iTunes LP will still be able to download the additional content using iTunes Match." The news about the possible winding down of iTunes would come as no surprise to many users. Not only has iTunes been outdated for years in terms of its interface and functionality, but Apple clearly aims to move to a streaming model of music selling. Further reading: 'Apple Stole My Music. No, Seriously'; Apple Says It Doesn't Know Why iTunes Users Are Losing Their Music Files; iTunes Turns 13 Today -- Continues To Be 'Awful'.

China's Xiaomi Confirms It Will Enter US Smartphone Market By the End of This Year or Early Next Year ( 61

Sensing an opening, Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi says it plans to enter the U.S. smartphone market in late 2018 or 2019. From a report: The news comes just several weeks after rival Huawei, which appeared to have a head start, had its hopes dashed when a partnership with AT&T was scuttled. While both companies said the parting was mutual, the decision came after intense political blowback from U.S. politicians who worried that Huawei's technology poses security risks for U.S. businesses and customers. Today, the Wall Street Journal reported that Xiaomi chair Lei Jun told one of its reporters: "We've always been considering entering the U.S. market. We plan to start entering the market by end 2018, or by early 2019." In general, while Chinese tech companies have become massive primarily by succeeding on their home turf, they are facing challenges in exporting that success to Western markets.

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