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Industry & Technology

Digital divide: Six children sharing one phone for homework

BBC Technology News - 8 hours 43 min ago
Research has shown an estimated million children have no adequate access to devices or the internet.

How the US caught flashy Nigerian Instagrammers 'with $40m'

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 10 min ago
Dubai has extradited "mrwoodbery" and "hushpuppi" to the US to face cyber fraud charges.

TikTok algorithm promoted anti-Semitic death camp meme

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 42 min ago
About 100 videos of an offensive song were viewed more than six million times before it took action.

Independent reviewers offer 80 suggestions to make Starliner safer

Ars Technica - 11 hours 40 min ago

Enlarge / The Boeing Starliner spacecraft is back home at the company's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility after its December test flight. (credit: NASA)

Following the failed test flight of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft in December, NASA on Monday released the findings of an investigation into the root causes of the launch's failure and the culture that led to them.

Over the course of its review, an independent team identified 80 "recommendations" for NASA and Boeing to address before the Starliner spacecraft launches again. In addition to calling for better oversight and documentation, these recommendations stress the need for greater hardware and software integration testing. Notably, the review team called for an end-to-end test prior to each flight using the maximum amount of flight hardware available.

This is significant, because before the December test flight, Boeing did not run an integrated software test that encompassed the roughly 48-hour period from launch through docking to the station. Instead, Boeing broke the test into chunks. The first chunk ran from launch through the point at which Starliner separated from the second stage of the Atlas V booster.

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The spying game: China's global network

BBC Technology News - July 7, 2020 - 10:17pm
The latest controversy around Huawei has shone a spotlight on the murky world of Chinese espionage.

Trump administration “looking into” ban on TikTok, other Chinese apps

Ars Technica - July 7, 2020 - 9:35pm

Enlarge / A stand of TikTok (Douyin) at The First International Artificial Products Expo Hangzhou on October 18, 2019, in Hangzhou, China. (credit: Long Wei | VCG | Getty Images)

The Trump administration is considering banning Chinese social media apps inside the United States, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday. The ban would start with popular short-video platform TikTok.

"We're taking this very seriously. We're certainly looking at [TikTok]," Pompeo said during a televised interview with Fox News. He directly and explicitly linked the considered ban on TikTok and other apps to the administration's actions against other Chinese tech firms.

"We've worked on this very issue for a long time, whether it was the problems of having Huawei technology in your infrastructure, we've gone all over the world and we're making real progress getting that out," he said. "We declared ZTE a danger to American national security, we've done all of these things. With respect to the Chinese apps on people's cell phones I can assure you the United States will get this one right. I don't want to get out in front of the president, but it's something we’re looking at."

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Trump “officially” takes US out of WHO, but withdrawal is a year-long process

Ars Technica - July 7, 2020 - 9:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Westend61)

The Trump administration has officially withdrawn the United States from the World Health Organization, according to a Democratic senator and multiple news reports. But the withdrawal process will take a year, so Trump may not be able to see it through.

"Congress received notification that POTUS officially withdrew the US from the WHO in the midst of a pandemic," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote on Twitter today. "To call Trump's response to COVID chaotic and incoherent doesn't do it justice. This won't protect American lives or interests—it leaves Americans sick and America alone."

According to The Hill, a senior Trump administration official confirmed today that "the White House has officially moved to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization."

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AMD’s Ryzen 3000XT CPU refresh is here—benchmarks inside

Ars Technica - July 7, 2020 - 9:06pm


Specs at a glance: Ryzen 3000XT CPUs, as tested OS Windows 10 Professional CPU Ryzen 9 3900XT (12c/24t)—$499 at Amazon
Ryzen 7 3800XT (8c/16t)—$399 at Amazon
Ryzen 5 3600XT (6c/12t)—$249 at Amazon RAM 32GB Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB DDR4 3200—$200 at Amazon GPU MSI GeForce 2060 RTX Super—$450 at Amazon HDD Samsung 860 Pro 1TB SSD—$275 at Amazon Motherboard ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII Hero (Wi-Fi)—$550 at Amazon Cooling NZXT Kraken X63 fluid cooler with 280mm radiator—$150 at Amazon PSU EVGA 850GQ Semi Modular PSU—$130 at Amazon Chassis  Primochill Praxis Wetbench test chassis—$200 at Amazon Price as tested ≈$1,795 as tested, excluding CPU

Today, AMD released three new Ryzen 3000 desktop processors—the Ryzen 3000XT line. These new CPU models—the Ryzen 9 3900XT, Ryzen 7 3800XT, and Ryzen 5 3600XT—are minor refreshes of the existing Ryzen 9 3900X, Ryzen 7 3800X, and Ryzen 5 3600X models and add a couple hundred MHz extra boost clock speed to the original versions.

We'll go ahead and spoiler this one for you right away—if you've already got a Ryzen 3000 X-series desktop CPU, you don't need to rush out to buy a new one. These updates should be seen largely as a way to keep pressure on Intel while AMD is ahead rather than something revolutionary.

If you're already in the market for a new CPU and want the top performer in your bracket, you probably want the XT model. PC builders looking for a better value per dollar may want to watch for the X-series CPUs to drop a few dollars, instead—none of the performance improvements brought in XT are overwhelming.

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Does First Amendment let ISPs sell Web-browsing data? Judge is skeptical

Ars Technica - July 7, 2020 - 8:14pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Yuichiro Chino)

The broadband industry has lost a key initial ruling in its bid to kill a privacy law imposed by the state of Maine.

The top lobby groups representing cable companies, mobile carriers, and telecoms sued Maine in February, claiming the privacy law violates their First Amendment protections on free speech and that the state law is preempted by deregulatory actions taken by Congress and the Federal Communications Commission. Maine's Web-browsing privacy law is similar to the one killed by Congress and President Donald Trump in 2017, as it prohibits ISPs from using, disclosing, or selling browsing history and other personal information without customers' opt-in consent. The law took effect on July 1, 2020.

The case is not over, but the ruling today by Judge Lance Walker in US District Court for the District of Maine dealt a major blow to the broadband industry's lawsuit. The plaintiffs representing the broadband industry are America's Communications Association, CTIA, NCTA, and USTelecom. Walker denied the plaintiffs' motion for judgment on the pleadings, criticized the industry's First Amendment argument, and granted Maine's motion to dismiss claims that the state law is preempted by federal law.

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New Chrome experiment promises up to 28% more battery life

Ars Technica - July 7, 2020 - 8:01pm

The latest experimental addition to the Chrome browser promises to save a ton of power usage. As spotted by TheWindowsClub, a new flag in the Canary version of Chrome called "Throttle Javascript timers in background" will cut down on the processing that normally happens in background tabs, and it could add two hours to a laptop's runtime.

JavaScript timers often track user interaction with a webpage, checking things like the scroll position and ad interaction while a tab is open. This also happens on background tabs, which really isn't useful since, by definition, a background tab isn't being interacted with. When you have a bunch of tabs open, these timers can chew through a good amount of battery for no reason. Now, in Canary, if you turn on the "Throttle Javascript timers" setting, any tab that has been in the background for more than five minutes will have these timers disabled, with wake-ups limited to once per minute. Normally, background tabs can trigger a wake-up once per second.

The flag in Canary links to a load of documentation detailing Google's test runs with this new feature. For the first test, the company grabbed a 2018 15-inch Macbook Pro and loaded up 36 background tabs with a blank foreground tab, then let the laptop run until it died. With throttling on, the laptop lasted two hours longer, or 28 percent longer, than the default settings. That's a huge improvement, but it still can't get Chrome up to the level of Apple's Safari, which bested Chrome by three hours with the default settings and by one hour with the new throttling flag.

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Amazon Prime Video will finally offer one of Netflix’s most basic features

Ars Technica - July 7, 2020 - 7:39pm

Enlarge / Amazon Prime Video on an iPad Pro. (credit: Amazon)

At long last, Amazon Prime Video is catching up to competitors like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ with a key feature: user profiles. The feature is rolling out in the mobile and set-top box versions of the Prime Video app starting today.

The feature allows multiple people sharing an Amazon Prime subscription to maintain separate watch histories and watch lists. Additionally, Amazon has made a distinction between user profiles for kids and profiles for adults, with different rules. Users can configure up to six profiles in any mix of children's and adults' profiles. All this is rolling out starting today, but it won't reach all users right away.

According to TechCrunch, multiple user profiles were supported in India and Africa previously, and they are only now making their way to the rest of the world, including the United States. The rollout brings Amazon closer to feature parity with Netflix and other big streaming players. The bulk of major apps in this space offered this feature, but there are some outliers—like CBS All Access.

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New video format 'halves data use of 4K and 8K TVs'

BBC Technology News - July 7, 2020 - 6:38pm
The H.266 standard was developed by Apple, Microsoft and Huawei, but faces competition.

Audi drops a new electric Q4 e-tron Sportback crossover—on sale in 2022

Ars Technica - July 7, 2020 - 6:30pm

The plan to rapidly electrify a post-diesel Volkswagen Group relies on a similar strategy to the plan that made it the world's second-largest automaker: design a flexible, extensible vehicle architecture, then use that across multiple brands to build a dizzying array of cars, crossovers, SUVs, and so on. The first of these architectures is called MEB (Modularer E-Antriebs-Baukasten, or Modular Electrification Toolkit), which is for small and medium-sized vehicles and is on track to debut with the VW ID.3 hatch in Europe in September. Here in the US, we'll get our first MEB crossover, the VW ID.4, early in 2021. But it won't be the only MEB-based crossover for the US in 2021. Audi has plans for the platform, too, and they include this newly revealed Q4 e-tron Sportback, which goes into series production next summer.

In 2019, we saw an MEB-based Audi called the Q4 e-tron, which goes on sale in the US in late 2021. It's an upscale battery-electric crossover with the footprint of a Q3 but the interior space of a Q5, a TARDIS-like effect that purpose-designed battery EVs make possible by dint of their powertrain layout.

The Q4 e-tron Sportback—which we'll get in 2022—will be mechanically identical to that BEV. The front axle is driven by a 75kW (100hp), 150Nm (111lb-ft) motor-generator unit and the rear by a 150kW (201hp), 310Nm (229lb-ft) MGU, with a total output of 225kW (301hp), all fed by an 82kWh lithium-ion pack.

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4G internet balloons take off over Kenya

BBC Technology News - July 7, 2020 - 6:21pm
The service has been delayed for two years but is now being rushed out to help in the coronavirus crisis.

City builds open-access broadband network with Google Fiber as its first ISP

Ars Technica - July 7, 2020 - 4:54pm

Enlarge / Illustration of fiber-optic cables. (credit: Getty Images | Tetra Images)

Google Fiber's wireline broadband is expanding to a new city for the first time in several years as part of a public-private partnership to build an open-access network that any ISP can use to offer service. The new network will be in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Google Fiber "paused" plans to expand to new cities in October 2016 amid lawsuits filed by incumbent ISPs and construction problems that eventually led to the Alphabet-owned ISP's complete exit from Louisville. But in West Des Moines, Google Fiber will rely on the city to build a network of fiber conduits.

"Municipalities like West Des Moines excel at building and maintaining infrastructure. At digging and laying pipes under the roads, restoring and preserving the sidewalks and green spaces, reducing traffic congestion, and lowering construction disruption," Google Fiber said in an announcement yesterday.

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Sega’s next retro hardware is a 1/6th-scale multi-game arcade cabinet

Ars Technica - July 7, 2020 - 4:20pm

After the release of the Genesis Mini and the recent announcement of the Game Gear Mini, Sega doesn't show any signs of slowing down its plans for miniature retro hardware releases. The company's next entry in the space is the newly announced Astro City Mini, a tiny arcade cabinet set to sport 36 Sega arcade titles.

Japanese site Game Watch was the first to post details about the cabinet overnight, but its story came down quickly (perhaps due to a timing miscommunication with Sega?). That didn't stop other sites from capturing the relevant details, though.

According to those reports, the Astro City Mini will launch by the end of 2020 in Japan for an asking price of ¥12,800 (about $119). The chassis itself will be at one-sixth scale to an actual Astro City cabinet (5.1×6.7×6.7 inches, or 13×17×17cm), suggesting the original cabinet's 29-inch screen will be reduced to a roughly 4.8-inch diagonal LCD.

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An extended interview with Star Control creators Fred Ford & Paul Reiche III

Ars Technica - July 7, 2020 - 4:10pm

Directed by Sean Dacanay, edited by Marcus Niehaus. Click here for transcript.

In December of 2018, Ars was lucky enough to sit down with Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III—a pair of designers who have worked on a ton of amazing games but who are probably known best by geeks of a certain age as the creators of the Star Control series. Paul and Fred (one quickly begins referring to them with a single mashed-together word that kind of sounds like "paulnfred") were extraordinarily generous with their time, hauling out box after box of vintage game design documents, piles of meticulously folded maps and charts, notebooks full of sketches and UX concepts—a treasure trove of Star Control.

As with all of our "War Stories" videos, we had to edit down a few hours' worth of footage into a 10-to-15-ish minute video—that seems to be about the limit that most folks will tolerate when it comes to game design videos on YouTube. And as with all of our "War Stories" videos, we had a huge amount of great footage left over when we were done.

We used a few minutes of that footage to create a second video, titled "Six Degrees of Star Control." As we were discussing the genesis of Star Control, we found a lot of famous and soon-to-be-famous space game designers in the late '80s and early '90s crossed paths quite frequently, and Paul and Fred worked with a lot of big names. This includes folks like Starflight's Greg Johnson, Dungeons and Dragons artist Erol Otis, and Star Wars concept designer Ian McCaig.

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Congress may allow NASA to launch Europa Clipper on a Falcon Heavy

Ars Technica - July 7, 2020 - 4:03pm

Enlarge / A full-scale prototype of the high-gain antenna on NASA's Europa Clipper spacecraft. (credit: NASA)

The US House of Representatives released its proposed fiscal year 2021 budget for NASA on Tuesday, funding the agency at $22.63 billion. This is the same amount of funding that was enacted for NASA's budget this year.

This is just the beginning of the budget process, of course. The White House released its budget request back in February, and now the House and Senate will establish their priorities. Months of negotiations will ensue, compounded by the COVID-19 crisis and the 2020 presidential election. After the fiscal year 2020 budget ends in October, a continuing resolution is likely. The 2021 budget seems unlikely to be resolved before December.

Still, the new document does tell us where Democrats and Republicans in the House think NASA funding should go. And there are a few important clues within worth discussing.

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Elon Musk taunts Tesla critics as stock soars to new highs

Ars Technica - July 7, 2020 - 3:53pm

Enlarge (credit: Tesla)

Tesla's stock leapt above $1,400 for the first time on Tuesday morning—a nearly 50 percent increase over the price just a week earlier. As of publication time, Tesla's stock has slumped a bit to around $1,380. That's still more than the stock was worth at any time before today and a six-fold jump from Tesla's share price a year earlier.

The primary villains in Tesla's mythology are "shorts": investors who short-sell the company's stock in hopes of profiting from a falling price. CEO Elon Musk has regularly taunted these critics about the company's rising stock price. On Sunday, Musk gleefully announced that Tesla was selling "limited edition short shorts" on its website.

The shorts are red with gold trim, with a small Tesla logo on the side. "S3XY" is emblazoned across the back in large type. The shorts cost "only $69.420," Musk wrote. As I write this on Tuesday morning, the shorts are sold out.

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Petnet charges new $30 annual fee for a service that still doesn’t work

Ars Technica - July 7, 2020 - 3:39pm

Enlarge / Example of how your furry friend may react to your automated pet feeder being offline. Not pictured: Insistent, deeply annoyed meowing. (credit: Catherine Falls Commercial | Getty Images)

It has not been a good year for customers of Petnet's cloud-connected automated pet-feeder system. After a rough spring, with multiple prolonged service outages, the company tried a last-ditch plea to its customers: pay a subscription fee of $4 a month, or $30 a year, and we'll be able to keep the lights on. Some users paid up—but it was apparently in vain, as their smartfeeders are still basically paperweights without connected service.

Petnet's public troubles began in February, when a service outage took feeders offline. The connection issues lasted for more than a week, during which time Petnet was completely and utterly unresponsive to customer complaints made by email, phone, or Twitter. Nor were customers the only ones who couldn't reach the company: messages Ars and other outlets sent to Petnet's press contact bounced back with an error saying the email address did not exist.

Service was finally restored—but only fleetingly, it turned out. Customers again began to complain of system outages beginning in late March. That time, Petnet blamed the COVID-19 crisis for its lack of response, saying in a March 26 email, "One of our third party vendors has notified us that due to COVID-19 their operations are experiencing an adverse effect. We will monitor this situation closely and provide you with any updates as they arise."

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