Privacy

'I Asked Apple for All My Data. Here's What Was Sent Back' (zdnet.com) 171

"I asked Apple to give me all the data it's collected on me since I first became a customer in 2010," writes the security editor for ZDNet, "with the purchase of my first iPhone." That was nearly a decade ago. As most tech companies have grown in size, they began collecting more and more data on users and customers -- even on non-users and non-customers... Apple took a little over a week to send me all the data it's collected on me, amounting to almost two dozen Excel spreadsheets at just 5MB in total -- roughly the equivalent of a high-quality photo snapped on my iPhone. Facebook, Google, and Twitter all took a few minutes to an hour to send me all the data they store on me -- ranging from a few hundred megabytes to a couple of gigabytes in size...

The zip file contained mostly Excel spreadsheets, packed with information that Apple stores about me. None of the files contained content information -- like text messages and photos -- but they do contain metadata, like when and who I messaged or called on FaceTime. Apple says that any data information it collects on you is yours to have if you want it, but as of yet, it doesn't turn over your content which is largely stored on your slew of Apple devices. That's set to change later this year... And, of the data it collects to power Siri, Maps, and News, it does so anonymously -- Apple can't attribute that data to the device owner... One spreadsheet -- handily -- contained explanations for all the data fields, which we've uploaded here...

[T]here's really not much to it. As insightful as it was, Apple's treasure trove of my personal data is a drop in the ocean to what social networks or search giants have on me, because Apple is primarily a hardware maker and not ad-driven, like Facebook and Google, which use your data to pitch you ads.

CNET explains how to request your own data from Apple.
Businesses

Fed Up With Apple's Policies, App Developers Form a 'Union' (wired.com) 108

Even as Apple has addressed some of the concerns outlined by iOS developers in the recent years, many say it's not enough. As the iOS App Store approaches its tenth anniversary, some app developers are still arguing for better App Store policies, ones that they say will allow them to make a better living as independent app makers. On Friday, a small group of developers, including one who recently made a feature-length film about the App Store and app culture, are forming a union to lobby for just that. From a report: In an open letter to Apple that published this morning, a group identifying themselves as The Developers Union wrote that "it's been difficult for developers to earn a living by writing software" built on Apple's existing values. The group then asked Apple to allow free trials for apps, which would give customers "the chance to experience our work for themselves, before they have to commit to making a purchase."

The grassroots effort is being lead by Jake Schumacher, the director of App: The Human Story; software developer Roger Ogden and product designer Loren Morris, who both worked for a timesheet app that was acquired last year; and Brent Simmons, a veteran developer who has made apps like NetNewsWire, MarsEdit, and Vesper, which he co-created with respected Apple blogger John Gruber.

Sony

Sony Ends Production Of Physical Vita Games (kotaku.com) 35

Sony is ending physical production of Vita games, news outlet Kotaku reports. Although the hardware manufacturer says digital distribution will continue, this move will mark the end of physical cards for the maligned portable game system, Kotaku added. From a report: Sony's American and European branches "plan to end all Vita GameCard production by close of fiscal year 2018," the company told developers today in a message obtained by Kotaku. The message asks that all Vita product code requests be submitted by June 28, 2018, and that final purchase orders be entered by February 15, 2019. Sony's 2018 fiscal year will end on March 31, 2019.
The Almighty Buck

Comcast Charges $90 Install Fee At Homes That Already Have Comcast Installed (arstechnica.com) 141

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Based on our tests, signing up for standalone Internet or TV service on Comcast.com often requires payment of a $59.99 or $89.99 installation fee, depending on where you live. (The fee was $60 in two Massachusetts suburbs and $90 at homes in Houston, Texas, and Seattle, Washington.) In cases where the $60 or $90 fee is charged, the fee is required whether you purchase your own modem or rent one from Comcast for another $11 a month.

The installation fee might be charged even if the home you're buying service at has existing Comcast service, and even if you order Internet speeds lower than those purchased by the current occupant. That means the fee is charged even when Comcast doesn't have to make any upgrades at the house or apartment you're moving into. Internet speed makes no difference, as the fee may be charged whether you purchase 15Mbps downloads or gigabit service. You can avoid the installation fee by purchasing certain bundles that include both TV and Internet, but the fee is often mandatory if you buy only TV service or broadband individually. The $60 or $90 fee is also charged when you buy phone service only or a "double-play" package of phone service and broadband.

Displays

Microsoft To Replace Surface Pro 4 Tablets Affected By Screen Flickering (theverge.com) 41

Microsoft is unable to find a software or firmware fix for Surface Pro 4 tablets affected by screen flickering, so it's launching a replacement program for them. Any Surface Pro 4 units experiencing the problem will be covered for up to three years from the time of original purchase. The Verge reports: The annoying flickering has been well-documented on Microsoft's support forums, with some users taking drastic steps like putting their Surface Pro 4 in a freezer to temporarily fix the issue. Back in February, Microsoft said it was closely monitoring the situation, and the company came to the conclusion that there's no convenient fix. Some customers have already paid for a screen replacement to stop the flickering since the problem typically arises when a machine is out of warranty; Microsoft says they'll be "offered a refund." The company notes that this three-year coverage doesn't extend to other problems your Surface Pro might experience outside the warranty period; it only applies to the screen issue. Replacement devices are refurbished -- not brand new -- Surface Pro 4s.
Businesses

Apple Prepares 'Apple Pay' Credit Card To Offset Slowing iPhone Sales (marketwatch.com) 85

An anonymous reader quotes the Wall Street Journal: Apple and Goldman Sachs are preparing to launch a new joint credit card, a move that would deepen the technology giant's push into its customers' wallets and mark the Wall Street firm's first foray into plastic. The planned card would carry the Apple Pay brand and could launch early next year, people familiar with the matter said...

As new iPhone sales growth slows, Apple is focusing on services such as mobile payments, streaming-music subscriptions, and App Store sales. Apple Pay, which generates revenue on each transaction, is a key contributor, but adoption has been slower than executives hoped... Apple could take a larger cut of mobile payments from the card if it is used for purchases, the person said. Currently, when a consumer pays for a purchase using the digital wallet on the iPhone -- regardless of what credit card the customer charges -- Apple receives 0.15% per transaction. Apple could more than double that under the agreement with Goldman, one of the people said.

The deal also reportedly includes having Goldman Sachs offer loans to customers at the Apple Store.
Australia

Australia To Ban Cash Purchases Over $10,000 (theguardian.com) 273

Long-time Slashdot reader skegg writes: Last night was federal budget night in Australia, and one of the announcements means Australians will face a crackdown on cash-in-hand payments in an attempt by the government to reduce money laundering and tax evasion. The government has turned its attention to the "black economy" in an attempt to raise billions of extra dollars and intends to limit cash payments for purchase goods and services to $10,000.
The financial services minister argues that currently the status quo "gives some businesses an unfair competitive advantage."
Businesses

EA Still Believes in Loot Boxes, Will 'Push Forward' With Their Use (variety.com) 145

Electronic Arts will "push forward" with loot boxes in its future video games, despite admitting that all loot boxes are gambling. From a report: "As you might imagine, we're working with all the industry associations globally and with regulators in various jurisdictions and territories, many of whom we've been working with for some time and have evaluated and established that programs like 'FIFA Ultimate Team' are not gambling," Wilson said. "And we don't believe that 'FIFA Ultimate Team' -- all loot boxes are gambling."

The issue of loot boxes, a form of microtransaction that has players spending real money to purchase a virtual box and then open it to discover what's inside it, came to a head late last year with the release of EA's "Star Wars Battlefront II" which featured a form of the box that players felt was costly and unfair. EA later pulled the form of microtransaction and completely retooled it before reintroducing a more accepted form of loot box to the game.

While the debate continues over loot boxes and whether they are a form of illegal gambling, Wilson explained Tuesday why EA believes they're not. "Firstly, players always receive a specified number of items in each ['FIFA Ultimate Team'] box. And secondly, we don't provide or authorize any way to cash out or sell items in virtual currency for real-world money. And there's no way we can make value assign to FUT items in game currency. And while we forbid the transfer of items of in-the-game currency outside, we also actively seek to eliminate that where it's going on in an illegal environment, and we work with regulators in various jurisdictions to achieve that."

Cellphones

Facebook's Phone-Free, Wireless 'Oculus Go' VR Headset Is Released Today 34

UnknownSoldier writes: The Oculus Go is finally available for purchase. Amazon is selling the 32GB model for $199, while the 64GB model is selling for $249. As a standalone virtual reality unit, it doesn't require a computer or phone to use. Ironically, you must use a phone for the initial setup. Reviews are out on The Verge and Ars Technica. The TL;DR -- Pros: Inexpensive; Cons: LCD, fixed 72 Hz rate, limited motion tracking. Will 2018 finally will be the year of cheap VR?
Businesses

GPU Prices Are Falling (venturebeat.com) 149

An anonymous reader shares a report: If you were looking for a new graphics card for your PC over the last year, your search probably ended with you giving up and slinging some cusses at cryptocurrency miners. But now the supply of video cards is on the verge of rebounding, and I don't think you should wait much longer to pull the trigger on a purchase. Earlier this week, Digitimes reported that GPU vendors like Gigabyte, MSI, and others were expecting to see their card shipments plummet 40 percent month-over-month. The market for digital currencies like Bitcoin and Etherum is losing some of its momentum, and at the same time, large mining operations are pulling back on their investment in GPUs in anticipation of dedicated mining rigs (called ASICs) that are due out before the end of the year. These factors working in conjunction seem like they are leading to more supply, which in turn is forcing retailers to cut prices. For example, the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 video card is selling on Amazon right now for $700. Other retailers even have it listed at the original MSRP of $600. These are the lowest prices of 2018 so far.
Power

White House Reportedly Exploring Wartime Rule To Help Coal, Nuclear (arstechnica.com) 308

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: According to reports from Bloomberg and E&E News, the Trump Administration has been exploring another way to help coal and nuclear generators: the Defense Production Act of 1950. The Act was passed under President Truman. Motivated by the Korean War, it allows the president broad authority to boost U.S. industries that are considered a priority for national security. On Thursday, E&E News cited sources that said "an interagency process is underway" at the White House to examine possible application of the act to the energy industry. The goal would be to give some form of preference to coal and nuclear plants that are struggling to compete with cheap natural gas.

If the DOE decides not to invoke Section 202(c), the president may turn to the Defense Production Act. According to a 2014 summary report (PDF) from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the act would allow the president to "demand priority for defense-related products," "provide incentives to develop, modernize, and expand defense productive capacity," and establish "a voluntary reserve of trained private sector executives available for emergency federal employment," among other powers. (Some even more permissive applications of the Act were terminated in 1957.) Using the Act to protect coal and nuclear facilities would almost certainly be more controversial, as the link between national defense and keeping uneconomic coal generators running is not well-established.
The Administration could apply the Act to "provide or guarantee loans to industry" for material-specific deliveries and production. "The president may also authorize the purchase of 'industrial items or technologies for installation in government or private industrial facilities,'" reports Ars.
Software

Apple Starts Alerting Users That It Will End 32-Bit App Support On the Mac (techcrunch.com) 267

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Tomorrow at midnight PT, Apple will begin issuing an alert box when you open a 32-bit app in MacOS 10.13.4. It's a one-time (per app) alert, designed to help MacOS make the full transition to 64-bit. At some unspecified time in the future, the operating system will end its support for 32-bit technology meaning those apps that haven't been updated just won't work. That time, mind you, is not tomorrow, but the company's hoping that this messaging will help light a fire under users and developers to upgrade before that day comes. Says the company on its help page, "To ensure that the apps you purchase are as advanced as the Mac you run them on, all future Mac software will eventually be required to be 64-bit." As the company notes, the transition's been a long time coming. The company started making it 10 or so years ago with the Power Mac G5 desktop, so it hasn't exactly been an overnight ask for developers. Of course, if you've got older, non-supported software in your arsenal, the eventual end-of-lifing could put a severe damper on your workflow. For those users, there will no doubt be some shades of the transition from OS 9 to OS X in all of this.
Power

All Apple Operations Now Run Off 100 Percent Renewable Energy (9to5mac.com) 116

According to a recently-shared press release, Apple has finally hit its goal of running its own operations off 100% renewable energy. "All Apple facilities, from Apple Park to its data centers to worldwide fleet of Apple retail stores, are now solely powered by green energy," reports 9to5Mac. From the report: This figure does not include Apple's third-party suppliers or manufacturers, although the company is convincing many of those to switch to 100% renewable sources too. Apple's environment VP Lisa Jackson discussed the news in an interview with Fast Company. Jackson highlights how Apple has not only focused on reducing emissions but also contributed to the availability of green energy on the grid. Apple has gone from 16% renewable energy to 100% in eight years, with CO2 emissions falling by 58%. The company has built numerous wind and solar farms in cooperation with local institutions, as well as intense focus on environmental sustainability during development of its new buildings like Apple Park. Its data centers are flanked by fields of solar panels. Filling out the last 4% required Apple to find renewable energy sources in some of its more remote retail stores and offices. It has signed power purchase agreements in Brazil, India, Israel, Mexico and Turkey.
Bitcoin

GPU Prices Soar as Bitcoin Miners Buy Up Hardware To Build Rigs (computerworld.com) 157

"Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency miners have created a dearth of mid-range and high-end GPU cards that are selling for twice as much as suggested retail," reports Computerworld. "The reason: miners are setting up server farms with the cards." Lucas123 writes: GPU prices have more than doubled in some cases... Some of the most popular GPUs can't even be found anymore as they've sold out due to demand. Meanwhile, some retailers are pushing back against bitcoin miners by showing favoritism to their traditional gamer customers, allowing them to purchase GPUs at manufacturer's suggested retail price. Earlier this year, NVIDIA asked retailers of its hardware to prioritize sales to gamers over cryptocurrency miners.
Power

Google Now Purchases More Renewable Energy Than It Consumes As a Company (theverge.com) 95

In a blog post today, Google announced that it now purchases more renewable energy than it consumers as a company. "Google began these efforts in 2017, with the goal of purchasing as much renewable energy as it uses across its 13 data centers and all of its office complexes," reports The Verge. From the report: To be clear, Google is not powering all of its energy consumption with renewable energy. It's matching what it consumes with equal amounts of purchased renewable energy. For every kilowatt-hour of electricity consumed, it buys a kilowatt-hour from a wind or solar farm built specifically for Google. The company says that its total purchase of energy from sources like wind and solar now exceeds the amount of electricity used by its operations. Google says it currently has contracts to purchase three gigawatts of output from renewable energy projects, and while it says "it's not yet possible to 'power' a company of our scale by 100 percent renewable energy," these purchases do have a positive impact. Google says it's helping spur development of clean energy projects, encouraging other companies to follow suit.
The Courts

CenturyLink Fights Billing-Fraud Lawsuit By Claiming That It Has No Customers (arstechnica.com) 198

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: CenturyLink is trying to force customers into arbitration in order to avoid a class-action lawsuit from subscribers who say they've been charged for services they didn't order. To do so, CenturyLink has come up with a surprising argument -- the company says it doesn't have any customers. While the customers sued CenturyLink itself, the company says the customers weren't actually customers of CenturyLink. Instead, CenturyLink says they were customers of 10 subsidiaries spread through the country. CenturyLink basically doesn't exist as a service provider -- according to a brief CenturyLink filed Monday.

"That sole defendant, CenturyLink, Inc., is a parent holding company that has no customers, provides no services, and engaged in none of the acts or transactions about which Plaintiffs complain," CenturyLink wrote. "There is no valid basis for Defendant to be a party in this Proceeding: Plaintiffs contracted with the Operating Companies to purchase, use, and pay for the services at issue, not with CenturyLink, Inc." CenturyLink says those operating companies should be able to intervene in the case and "enforce class-action waivers," which would force the customers to pursue their claims via arbitration instead of in a class-action lawsuit. By suing CenturyLink instead of the subsidiaries, "it may be that Plaintiffs are hoping to avoid the arbitration and class-action waiver provisions," CenturyLink wrote.

Privacy

Adobe Is Helping Some 60 Companies Track People Across Devices (neowin.net) 66

Neowin reports of Adobe's recent announcement of its new Marketing Cloud Device Co-op initiative: The announcement of the new solution for tracking customers across devices was made at the Adobe Summit this week in Las Vegas to a digital marketing conference. According to an Adobe blog post released earlier this month citing Forrester, consumers are increasingly accessing multiple devices before making a purchase decision -- an average of 5.5 connected devices per person. This behavior creates a challenge for retailers, who cannot easily target people in their marketing campaigns, ultimately depending on Facebook or Google to track people instead of devices. Both Facebook and Google are able to do this job because of the massive amount of users logged into their ecosystems regularly, so most retailers have been opting to use those platforms as a way to reach potential customers. But Adobe's approach is to provide a platform agnostic solution acting as a glue between the world's biggest brands' own data management platforms.

In order for Device Co-op to work, each company that has joined the initiative will provide Adobe with "cryptographically hashed login IDs" and HTTP header data, which Adobe claims will completely hide the customer's identity. This data will be used to create groups of devices used by the same person or household, which will then be made available to all the members of the initiative so they can target people on different devices, instead of creating one customer profile per device, as can be seen from the example given in the image above. Until now, some 60 companies have joined the Adobe initiative, including brands such as Subway, Sprint, NFL, Lenovo, Intel, Barnes & Noble, and Subaru. Also, preliminary measurements made by Adobe indicate that Device Co-op could link up to 1.2 billion devices worldwide, based on the amount of accesses seen by current members. But it is important to note that the initiative is currently collecting data of U.S. and Canada users only.
Adobe is claiming the initiative will not disclose a user's identity to its members, including any personal data, but, given the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, many will be skeptical of those claims. Thankfully, Adobe is allowing users to completely opt out all of their devices from the services via this website.
Businesses

Foxconn Announces Purchase of Belkin, Wemo, and Linksys (androidpolice.com) 80

Foxconn, the Taiwan-based company best-known for manufacturing Apple products announced that one of its subsidiaries (Foxconn Interconnect Technology) is purchasing U.S.-based Belkin for $866 million in cash. "Belkin owns a number of major brands, including Linksys and Wemo," notes Android Police. From the report: The buyout would make Foxconn a major player in consumer electronics, instead of just a contract manufacturing company. Belkin primarily sells phone/tablet accessories, but also manufactures networking equipment like routers and Wi-Fi range extenders. The company also sells a range of smart home products under the Wemo brand. According to The Financial Times, the purchase is subject to approval from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment. In other words, there is a very real chance the acquisition could be blocked. President Trump blocked Broadcom's acquisition of Qualcomm earlier this month, based on advice from the committee.
Iphone

State Department Seemingly Buys $15,000 iPhone Cracking Tech GrayKey (vice.com) 79

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Grayshift, a company that offers to unlock modern iPhones for as little as $50 each, has caused a buzz across law enforcement agencies, with local police already putting down cash for the much sought-after tech. Now, it appears a section of the U.S. State Department has also purchased the iPhone cracking tool, judging by procurement records reviewed by Motherboard. Grayshift's iPhone product, dubbed GrayKey, can unlock devices running versions of Apple's latest mobile operating system iOS 11, according to marketing material obtained by Forbes. An online version of GrayKey which allows 300 unlocks costs $15,000 (which boils down to $50 per device), and an offline capability with unlimited uses is $30,000. According to a recent post from cybersecurity firm Malwarebytes, which obtained leaked details on GrayKey, the product itself is a small, four inch by four inch box, and two iPhones can be connected at once via lightning cables. Malwarebytes adds that the time it takes to unlock a device varies depending on the strength of the user's passcode: it may be hours or days. Notably, Grayshift includes an ex-Apple engineer on its staff, Forbes reported.

On March 6, the State Department ordered an item from Grayshift for just over $15,000, according to a purchase order listing available on the U.S. government's public federal procurement data system. The listing is sparse on details, putting the order under the generic label of "computer and computer peripheral equipment." But Motherboard confirmed that the Grayshift in the State Department listing is the same as the one selling iPhone cracking tech: the phone number of the vendor in both the purchase order and documents Motherboard previously obtained detailing a GrayKey purchase by Indiana State Police is the same. The "funding office" for the Grayshift purchase was the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, according to the procurement records. The Bureau acts as the law enforcement and security arm of the State Department, bearing "the core responsibility for providing a safe environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy," the State Department website reads.

Security

A 15-Year-Old Hacked the Secure Ledger Crypto Wallet (techcrunch.com) 68

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: A 15-year-old programmer named Saleem Rashid discovered a flaw in the popular Ledger hardware wallet that allowed hackers to grab secret PINs before or after the device was shipped. The holes, which Rashid described on his blog, allowed for both a "supply chain attack" -- meaning a hack that could compromise the device before it was shipped to the customer -- and another attack that could allow a hacker to steal private keys after the device was initialized. The Ledger team described the vulnerabilities dangerous but avoidable. For the "supply chain attack," they wrote: "by having physical access to the device before generation of the seed, an attacker could fool the device by injecting his seed instead of generating a new one. The most likely scenario would be a scam operation from a shady reseller." "If you bought your device from a different channel, if this is a second hand device, or if you are unsure, then you could be victim of an elaborate scam. However, as no demonstration of the attack in the real has been shown, it is very unlikely. In both cases, a successful firmware update is the proof that your device has never been compromised," wrote the team.

Further, the post-purchase hack "can be achieved only by having physical access to the device, knowing your PIN code and installing a rogue unsigned application. This rogue app could break isolation between apps and access sensitive data managed by specific apps such as GPG, U2F or Neo." Ledger CEO Eric Larcheveque claimed that there were no reports of the vulnerability effecting any active devices. "No one was compromised that we know of," he said. "We have no knowledge that any device was affected." Rashid, for his part, was disappointed with the speed Ledger responded to his claims.

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