Businesses

Google, Apple, Amazon Hit Record Lobbying Highs (axios.com) 31

An anonymous reader shares a report: The last three months brought record-high lobbying spending from four major tech companies: Google spent $5.93 million, Apple spent $2.2 million, Amazon spent $3.21 million, Uber spent $430,000. Facebook spent $2.38 million this quarter, up from the same period last year but far from a record. Microsoft's bill for the quarter was just over $2 million.
China

Beijing Wants AI To Be Made In China By 2030 (nytimes.com) 91

Reader cdreimer writes: According to a report on The New York Times (may be paywalled, alternative story here): "If Beijing has its way, the future of artificial intelligence will be made in China. The country laid out a development plan on Thursday to become the world leader in A.I. by 2030, aiming to surpass its rivals technologically and build a domestic industry worth almost $150 billion. Released by the State Council, the policy is a statement of intent from the top rungs of China's government: The world's second-largest economy will be investing heavily to ensure its companies, government and military leap to the front of the pack in a technology many think will one day form the basis of computing. The plan comes with China preparing a multibillion-dollar national investment initiative to support "moonshot" projects, start-ups and academic research in A.I., according to two professors who consulted with the government about the effort."
Microsoft

For the First Time, Microsoft Got More Revenue From Office 365 Subscriptions Than From Traditional Office Software Licensing (axios.com) 152

Ina Fried, reporting for Axios: Shares of Microsoft hit record territory in after-hours trading on Thursday, topping $75 a share, after the software giant's better-than-expected financial results. As has been the case for the last several quarters, strength in Microsoft's cloud business, including Office 365 and Windows Azure, was the key to the company's growth. Of note, Microsoft CFO Amy Hood told analysts that, for the first time, Microsoft got more revenue from Office 365 subscriptions than from traditional Office software licensing. Why it matters: Microsoft has shown an ability to grow its business even as the PC market has stalled, reflecting moves the company made in the cloud both since Satya Nadella took over as CEO as well as some that were in place before he took over the top spot.
Businesses

FTC Probing Allegations of Amazon's Deceptive Discounting (reuters.com) 86

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: As part of its review of Amazon's agreement to buy Whole Foods, the Federal Trade Commission is looking into allegations that Amazon misleads customers about its pricing discounts, according to a source close to the probe. The FTC is probing a complaint brought by the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, which looked at some 1,000 products on Amazon's website in June and found that Amazon put reference prices, or list prices, on about 46 percent of them. An analysis found that in 61 percent of products with reference prices, Amazon's reference prices were higher than it had sold the same product in the previous 90 days, Consumer Watchdog said in a letter to the FTC dated July 6. Amazon said in a statement that Consumer Watchdog's study was "deeply flawed." "The conclusions the Consumer Watchdog group reached are flat out wrong," Amazon said. "We validate the reference prices provided by manufacturers, vendors and sellers against actual prices recently found across Amazon and other retailers."
Communications

AlphaBay Owner Used Email Address For Both AlphaBay and LinkedIn Profile. 103

BarbaraHudson writes: The Register is reporting that Alexandre Cazes, the 25-year-old Canadian running the dark web site AlphaBay, was using a hotmail address easily connected to him via his Linkdin profile to administer the site. From the report: "[A]ccording to U.S. prosecutors, he used his real email address, albeit a Hotmail address -- Pimp_Alex_91@hotmail.com -- as the administrator password for the marketplace software. As a result, every new user received a welcome email from that address when they signed up to the site, and everyone using its password recovery tool also received an email from that address. However, rather than carefully set up and then abandon that email address, it turns out that Alexandre Cazes -- Pimp Alex -- had been using that address for years. Cazes had also used his Pimp Alex Hotmail address as well as an email address from his own business -- EBX Technologies -- to set up online bank accounts and crypto-currency accounts. How did law enforcement know that Cazes was behind EBX Technologies? It was on his LinkedIn profile."

BarbaraHudson adds: "His laptop wasn't encrypted, so expect more arrests as AlphaBay users are tracked down."
The Courts

Judge Rules That Government Can Force Glassdoor To Unmask Anonymous Users Online (arstechnica.com) 105

pogopop77 shares a report from Ars Technica: An appeals court will soon decide whether the U.S. government can unmask anonymous users of Glassdoor -- and the entire proceeding is set to happen in secret. Federal investigators sent a subpoena asking for the identities of more than 100 anonymous users of the business-review site Glassdoor, who apparently posted reviews of a company that's under investigation for potential fraud related to its contracting practices. The government later scaled back its demand to just eight users. Prosecutors believe these eight Glassdoor users are "third-party witnesses to certain business practices relevant to [the] investigation." The name of the company under investigation is redacted from all public briefs. Glassdoor made a compromise proposal to the government: it would notify the users in question about the government's subpoena and then provide identifying information about users who were willing to participate. The government rejected that idea. At that point, Glassdoor lawyered up and headed to court, seeking to have the subpoena thrown out. Lawyers for Glassdoor argued that its users have a First Amendment right to speak anonymously. While the company has "no desire to interfere" with the investigation, if its users were forcibly identified, the investigation "could have a chilling effect on both Glassdoor's reviewers' and readers' willingness to use glassdoor.com," states Glassdoor's motion (PDF). The government opposed the motion, though, and prevailed in district court.
Encryption

Apple Flies Top Privacy Executives Into Australia To Lobby Against Proposed Encryption Laws (patentlyapple.com) 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Patently Apple: Last week Patently Apple posted a report titled "Australia proposed new Laws Compelling Companies like Facebook & Apple to Provide Access to Encrypted Messages." Days later, Australia's Prime Minister spoke about the encryption problem with the Australian press as noted in the video in our report. Now we're learning that Apple has flown in top executives to lobby Turnbull government on encryption laws. It sounds like a showdown is on the horizon. This is the second time this month that Apple has flown executives into Australia to lobby the government according to a Sydney publication. Apple executives met with Attorney-General George Brandis and senior staff in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's office on Tuesday to discuss the company's concerns about the legal changes, which could see tech companies compelled to provide access to locked phones and third party messaging applications. Apple has argued in the meetings that as a starting point it does not want the updated laws to block tech companies from using encryption on their devices, nor for companies to have to provide decryption keys to allow access to secure communications. The company has argued that if it is compelled to provide a software "back door" into its phones to help law enforcement agencies catch criminals and terrorists, this would reduce the security for all users. It also says it has provided significant assistance to police agencies engaged in investigations, when asked. UPDATE 07/20/17: Headline has been updated to clarify that Apple is lobbying against the proposed encryption laws in Australia.
Businesses

Say Goodbye To Spain's Glorious Three-Hour Lunch Break (citylab.com) 155

An anonymous reader shares a report: Is the typical Spanish daily schedule about to change forever? For decades, campaigners in the country have complained that the average Spaniard's habit of keeping extremely late hours and taking delightfully long lunch breaks was making everyday life harder for citizens. This week, change could finally be on the way, as 110 professional bodies in Catalonia have signed up to a plan to change the region's daily timetable by 2025, shortening the classic three-hour lunch break so that employees can finish work earlier in the evening. Such a change would radically reshape ordinary people's lives -- and controversially, it could drive a wedge between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, where the national government supports similar changes (and has adopted a shorter break for public offices) but hasn't yet fixed a timetable for action. You could call the plan an end to national harmony, a blessed release for hard-pressed workers, or an attack on the Spanish way of life. Whatever you do, however, don't call it the end of the siesta. That's because the beloved and much-misunderstood Spanish tradition of the afternoon nap more or less died out decades ago. What remained is a highly distinctive national timetable not found in any other European country, where it has often been read as a peculiarly exotic form of madness. The average Spanish working day is certainly unusual in shape. After starting work between 8 and 9 a.m., hungry workers hold out for a lunch break scheduled as late as 1:30 or 2:30. As if in compensation for this long wait, many then stay off-duty for a break of up to three hours, filling it with a protracted multi-course lunch and maybe a stop at a "nap bar." Most stores and many businesses close down until the late afternoon, before a final burst of office hours between 5:30 and 8 (or sometimes 4 to 7). Spaniards then head home at an hour when most people in other countries are cleaning up their dinner dishes, rarely getting food on the table any earlier than 10 p.m. This pushes bedtime past midnight for many.
Google

Google To Add 'News Feed' To Website and App (bbc.com) 48

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google is adding a personalised Facebook-style news feed to its homepage -- Google.com -- to show users content they may be interested in before they search. It will display news stories, features, videos and music chosen on the basis of previous searches by the same user. Users will also be able to click a "follow" button on search results to add topics of interest to their feed. One analyst said the move would help Google compete with rivals. "Google has a strong incentive to make search as useful as possible," said Mattia Littunen, a senior research analyst at Enders Analysis. "Facebook's news feed is one of its main rivals. It is competing with other ways of accessing content."
Microsoft

Apple, Google and Microsoft Are Hoarding $464 Billion In Cash (cnn.com) 247

Apple, Google and Microsoft are sitting on a mountain of cash -- and most of it is stashed far away from the taxman. Those three tech behemoths held a total of $464 billion in cash at the end of last year, according to a Moody's report published this week. From a report: Apple alone had a stunning quarter-trillion dollars of cash thanks to years of gigantic profits and few major acquisitions. That's enough money to buy Netflix three times. It's also more cash than what's sitting on the balance sheet of every major industry except tech and health care. All told, non-financial U.S. companies studied by Moody's hoarded $1.84 trillion of cash at the end of last year. That's up 11% from 2015 and nearly two and a half times the 2008 level. Roughly $1.3 trillion -- 70% of the total -- is being held overseas, where the money isn't subject to U.S. taxes. Apple, Google owner Alphabet, Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle hold 88% of their cash overseas. Moody's said the tower of money stashed abroad reflects the "negative tax consequences of permanently repatriating money to the U.S."
Microsoft

Windows 10 Will Cut Off Devices With Older CPUs (pcworld.com) 260

Reader Baron_Yam shares a PCWorld report: No Windows 10 Creators Update for you, Microsoft says -- at least, not if you happen to be the unlucky owner of certain older Atom-based Windows devices, and other aging models in the future. After stories arose of failed attempts to upgrade such hardware to the Creators Update, Microsoft confirmed late Wednesday that any hardware device that falls out of the manufacturer's support cycle may be ineligible for future Windows 10 updates. In the case of the four "Clover Trail" processors (part of the Cloverview platform) that have fallen into Intel's End of Interactive Support phase, they will be ineligible for the Windows 10 Creators Update, Microsoft confirmed. Instead, they'll simply be offered the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, plus security updates through January, 2023, the end of the original Windows 8.1 support period. The problem, however, is that Microsoft's language opens up the possibility that any unsupported hardware device could be excluded from future Windows 10 updates. "Recognizing that a combination of hardware, driver and firmware support is required to have a good Windows 10 experience, we updated our support lifecycle policy to align with the hardware support period for a given device," Microsoft said in a statement. "If a hardware partner stops supporting a given device or one of its key components and stops providing driver updates, firmware updates, or fixes, it may mean that device will not be able to properly run a future Windows 10 feature update." The reader adds, it's not a case of "feature updates are not recommended and may not work", it's a case of "we will block feature updates to your device".
Intel

Intel Has Axed the Group Working on Fitness Trackers and Health Wearables (cnbc.com) 60

Intel has axed the division that worked on health wearables, including fitness trackers, CNBC is reporting citing a source. From the report: The company has been slowly de-emphasizing its own line of wearables for the past several years, and has not mentioned wearables on its earnings calls since 2014. In November, TechCrunch reported that the company was planning to take a step back from the business after its acquisition of the Basis fitness watch didn't pan out as expected. Intel denied at the time that it was stepping back. But a source told CNBC that the chip maker in fact let go about 80 percent of the Basis group in November. Many of the people were given the opportunity to relocate to other parts of the business. About two weeks ago, Intel completely eliminated the group, this person said. The company's New Technologies Group, which looks at cutting-edge business areas, is now focusing on augmented reality, another source told CNBC.
Mars

SpaceX Pulls the Plug On Its Red Dragon Plans (arstechnica.com) 153

SpaceX has largely confirmed the rumors that the company is no longer planning to send an uncrewed version of its Dragon spacecraft to Mars in 2020, or later. Ars Technica reports: The company had planned to use the propulsive landing capabilities on the Dragon 2 spacecraft -- originally developed for the commercial crew variant to land on Earth -- for Mars landings in 2018 or 2020. Previously, it had signed an agreement with NASA to use some of its expertise for such a mission and access its deep-space communications network. On Tuesday, however, during a House science subcommittee hearing concerning future NASA planetary science missions, Florida Representative Bill Posey asked what the agency was doing to support privately developed planetary science programs. Jim Green, who directs NASA's planetary science division, mentioned several plans about the Moon and asteroids, but he conspicuously did not mention Red Dragon. After this hearing, SpaceX spokesman John Taylor didn't return a response to questions from Ars about the future of Red Dragon. Then, during a speech Wednesday at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference, Musk confirmed that the company is no longer working to land Dragon propulsively for commercial crew.

"Yeah, that was a tough decision," Musk acknowledged Wednesday with a sigh. "The reason we decided not to pursue that heavily is that it would have taken a tremendous amount of effort to qualify that for safety for crew transport," Musk explained Wednesday. "There was a time when I thought the Dragon approach to landing on Mars, where you've got a base heat shield and side mounted thrusters, would be the right way to land on Mars. But now I'm pretty confident that is not the right way." Musk added that his company has come up with a "far better" approach to landing on Mars that will be incorporated into the next iteration of the company's proposed Mars transportation hardware.

Piracy

Game of Thrones Pirates Being Monitored By HBO, Warnings On The Way (torrentfreak.com) 276

HBO is leaving no stones unturned in keeping Game of Thrones' piracy under control. The company is monitoring various popular torrent swarms and sending thousands of warnings targeted at internet subscribers whose connections are used to share the season 7 premiere of the popular TV series, reports TorrentFreak: Soon after the first episode of the new season appeared online Sunday evening, the company's anti-piracy partner IP Echelon started sending warnings targeted at torrenting pirates. The warnings in question include the IP-addresses of alleged BitTorrent users and ask the associated ISPs to alert their subscribers, in order to prevent further infringements. "We have information leading us to believe that the IP address xx.xxx.xxx.xx was used to download or share Game of Thrones without authorization," the notification begins. "HBO owns the copyright or exclusive rights to Game of Thrones, and the unauthorized download or distribution constitutes copyright infringement. Downloading unauthorized or unknown content is also a security risk for computers, devices, and networks." Under US copyright law, ISPs are not obligated to forward these emails, which are sent as a DMCA notification. However, many do as a courtesy to the affected rightsholders. The warnings are not targeted at a single swarm but cover a wide variety of torrents. TorrentFreak has already seen takedown notices for the following files, but it's likely that many more are being tracked.
Bitcoin

Ethereum Co-Founder Says Cryptocurrencies Are 'a Ticking Time Bomb' (bloomberg.com) 64

randomErr writes from a report via Business Insider (alternate source): Ethereum, the rival to bitcoin, has been on a tear. Its founders said the latest trend in the cryptocurrency space may not be as good for the cryptocurrency as some might think. Ethereum is up 1,700% over the last year, and that spike has occurred in tandem with the growth of the hottest new trend in fundraising: initial coin offerings. Approximately $1.2 billion has been raised by the new cryptocurrency-based capital raising method this year, according to Autonomous Next, a financial technology analytics service. It is a trend that has sparked excitement across Wall Street. But the cofounder of the company behind the cryptocurrency, Charles Hoskinson, told Bloomberg that initial coin offerings may not benefit Ethereum. "People say ICOs are great for ethereum because, look at the price, but it's a ticking time-bomb," said Hoskinson. "There's an over-tokenization of things as companies are issuing tokens when the same tasks can be achieved with existing blockchains. People are blinded by fast and easy money."
Facebook

Facebook Is Looking Into Allowing Paywall For Selected Media Stories (techcrunch.com) 35

New submitter sarbonn writes: Facebook is testing whether or not it can start charging for stories by placing a paywall that appears after ten stories have been viewed from one of its media sources. An interesting takeaway is that Facebook would like to do this by avoiding the mandatory 30 percent cut that Apple and Google get from their stores by going around their app stores. This is being targeted for around October. The news comes from Campbell Brown, who heads Facebook's new partnerships business. "We are in early talks with several news publishers about how we might better support subscription business models on Facebook. As part of the Facebook Journalism Project, we are taking the time to work closely together with our partners and understand their needs," Brown told TechCrunch in a statement via a spokesperson.
Businesses

Why is Comcast Using Self-driving Cars To Justify Abolishing Net Neutrality? (theverge.com) 222

Earlier this week, Comcast filed its comments in favor of the FCC's plan to eliminate the 2015 net neutrality rules. While much of the document was devoted to arguments we've heard before -- Comcast believes the current rules are anti-competitive and hurt investment, but generally supports the principles of net neutrality -- one statement stood out. The Verge adds: Buried in the 161-page document was this quirky assertion (emphasis ours): "At the same time, the Commission also should bear in mind that a more flexible approach to prioritization may be warranted and may be beneficial to the public... And paid prioritization may have other compelling applications in telemedicine. Likewise, for autonomous vehicles that may require instantaneous data transmission, black letter prohibitions on paid prioritization may actually stifle innovation instead of encouraging it. In other words, Comcast is arguing for paid prioritization and internet fast lanes to enable self-driving cars to communicate better with other vehicles and their surrounding environment, thus making them a safer and more efficient mode of transportation. The only problem is that autonomous and connected cars don't use wireless broadband to communicate. When cars talk with each other, they do it by exchanging data wirelessly over an unlicensed spectrum called the Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) band, using technology similar to Wi-Fi. The FCC has set aside spectrum in the 5.9GHz band specifically for this purpose, and it is only meant to be used for vehicle-to-everything (V2X) applications. That includes vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), and vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) -- so cars talking to other cars, to traffic signals, to the phone in your pocket... you name it. Soon enough, all cars sold in the US will be required to include V2V technology for safety purposes, if the Department of Transportationâ(TM)s new rule goes into effect.
AI

Many Firms Are 'AI Washing' Claims of Intelligent Products (axios.com) 93

Software companies are seeking to exploit the current artificial intelligence craze by "AI washing" -- exaggerating the role of AI in their products, according to a new report by Gartner, the research firm. From a report: Gartner, which tracks commercial manias through a tool it calls the Hype Cycle, compares what is currently going on in AI with a prior surge in environmental over-statement -- "greenwashing, in which companies exaggerate the environmental-friendliness of their products or practices for business benefit." The bottom line: More than 1,000 vendors say their products employ AI, but many are "applying the AI label a little too indiscriminately," Gartner says in its report. Kriti Sharma, who runs the AI team at Sage, tells Axios that a lot of companies are seeking to solve problems using AI that would be better done by humans. And what is often called AI "is just automation that you are doing," she said.
Businesses

Microsoft's Wilsonville Jobs Are Going To China, Underscoring Travails of Domestic Tech Manufacturing (oregonlive.com) 148

An anonymous reader tips us a story: Just two years ago, Microsoft cast its Wilsonville factory as the harbinger of a new era in American technology manufacturing. The tech giant stamped, "Manufactured in Portland, OR, USA" on each Surface Hub it made there. It invited The New York Times and Fast Company magazine to tour the plant in 2015, then hired more than 100 people to make the enormous, $22,000 touch-screen computer. But last week Microsoft summoned its Wilsonville employees to an early-morning meeting and announced it will close the factory and lay off 124 employees -- nearly everyone at the site -- plus dozens of contract workers. Panos Panay, the vice president in charge of the Surface product group, traveled from corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington, to tell the staff that Microsoft was moving production to the same place it makes all other Surface products. Though workers present say he didn't disclose the location, Microsoft has previously said it makes its other Surface computers in China. The company hasn't explained, in public or to its Wilsonville employees, why it gave up on domestic manufacturing so quickly and didn't respond to repeated inquiries for comment. But the only thing surprising about Microsoft's decision is that it tried to make its computers in the U.S. in the first place.
Intel

Intel's Big Bet On Baseball (axios.com) 57

Ina Fried, reporting for Axios: Intel has been traveling the country this year, broadcasting one major league game a week in virtual reality. On Tuesday, the company's crew was close to home as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Cleveland Indians 2-1 in extra innings. How it works: The games are free to watch, but require the person to have a Samsung phone and Gear VR headset. To broadcast a game in VR, Intel has camera rigs on the first and third base side, as well as the traditional "deep home" shot. It also aims to have an additional camera or two in a spot unique to each stadium. In Arizona, for example, it has one near the stadium's swimming pool. Each camera setup has six pairs of cameras to capture high-definition footage in 180 degrees. In the parking lot, meanwhile, separate teams work in two adjoining vans. One group works on the sound and stitches the images together, while a second van houses a more traditional broadcast setup, including play-by-play announcer J.B. Long. Tweaking the product: Still new at this, Intel is constantly adding new tricks to its arsenal. Last night's game, for example, was the first time the company added real-time VR graphics to the mix, showing baseball cards with stats above the players. Intel CEO has said he wants VR sports to be a billion dollar business for the company.

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