Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 25 min 20 sec ago
Facebook's privacy gaffes keep coming. On Wednesday, the social media company said it collected the stored email address lists of as many as 1.5 million users without permission. On Thursday, the company said the number of Instagram users affected by a previously reported password storage error was in the "millions," not the "tens of thousands" as previously estimated.
Facebook said the email contact collection was the result of a highly flawed verification technique that instructed some users to supply the password for the email address associated with their account if they wanted to continue using Facebook. Security experts almost unanimously criticized the practice, and Facebook dropped it as soon as it was reported.
In a statement issued to reporters, Facebook wrote:
Not content with having a Windows-based Internet of Things platform (Windows 10 IoT) and a Linux-based Internet of Things platform (Azure Sphere), Microsoft has added a third option. The company has announced that it has bought Express Logic and its ThreadX real-time operating system for an undisclosed sum.
Real-time operating systems (RTOSes) differ from more conventional platforms in their predictability. With an RTOS, a developer can guarantee that, for example, interrupt handling or switching from one process to another takes a known, bounded amount of time. This gives applications strong guarantees that they'll be able to respond in time to hardware events, timers, or other things that might make an application want to use the CPU. This predictability is essential for control applications; for example, ThreadX was used in NASA's Deep Impact mission that hurled a large object at a comet. ThreadX was also used in the iPhone 4's cellular radio controller, and ThreadX is embedded in the firmware of many Wi-Fi devices. These tasks need the determinism of an RTOS because there are timing constraints on how quickly they need to respond.
Linux can be built with various options to offer more predictable behavior and so can address some similar scenarios. But ThreadX has another big advantage up its sleeve: it's tiny. A minimal ThreadX installation takes 2,000 bytes of storage and needs 1KB of RAM, far less than Linux can use. By way of comparison, Microsoft's Sphere hardware (which uses a custom-designed ARM processor with various security features embedded) has 4MB of RAM for applications and 16MB of storage. There are an estimated 6.2 billion deployments of ThreadX running on several dozen different kinds of processor or microcontroller.
Facebook is working on developing an AI voice assistant similar in functionality to Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri, according to a report from CNBC and a later statement from a Facebook representative.
The CNBC report, which cites "several people familiar with the matter," says the project has been ongoing since early 2018 in the company's offices in Redmond, Washington. The endeavor is led by Ira Snyder, whose listed title on LinkedIn is "Director, AR/VR and Facebook Assistant at Facebook." Facebook Assistant may be the name of the project. CNBC writes that Facebook has been reaching out to vendors in the smart-speaker supply chain, suggesting that Portal may only be the first of many smart devices the company makes.
When contacted for comment, Facebook sent a statement to Reuters, The Verge, and others, saying: "We are working to develop voice and AI assistant technologies that may work across our family of AR/VR products including Portal, Oculus, and future products."
Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share, and a number of high-profile video games all happen to be discounted at the same time today.
You can see the full selection of deals below, but a good chunk of what we've found includes games that launched within the past six or seven months. A few highlights include Marvel's Spider-Man available for $30, which is a $10 discount, and Kingdom Hearts III available for $40, which is $20 off. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is still $10 off, as is Devil May Cry 5, which released to acclaim just last month. Red Dead Redemption 2, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Resident Evil 2, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 are all currently slashed as well.
Note that most of these sales focus on consoles and cover physical copies instead of digital download codes. Just about every video game drops in price after a little while on the market, so if you're not aching to pick up anything below, we're likely to see each fall a few bucks further in the coming months. But if you missed out on one of these games at launch and have been curious to give it a try, this might be a good time to jump aboard.
Universal Pictures dropped a second trailer for the studio's forthcoming Hobbs and Shaw, the first spinoff of its wildly popular Fast and Furious franchise. It looks like it will be the perfect summer popcorn movie, with ludicrous over-the-top action, Idris Elba stealing every scene as a cocky super-soldier, and the lovable, wisecracking duo of Hobbs and Shaw putting aside their differences yet again to save the world.
(Spoilers for some of the prior films in Fast and Furious franchise below.)
The first film in the series, The Fast and the Furious, debuted in 2001, and it focused on an undercover cop (the late Paul Walker) taking on a group of car hijackers led by Vin Diesel's Dominic Toretto. It earned more than $200 million worldwide against its relatively modest $38 million budget, so the film was followed by seven equally successful sequels and two short tie-in films. It's now Universal Pictures' most successful franchise of all time, grossing more than $5 billion worldwide. This juggernaut shows no signs of stopping: the ninth and tenth films are already in development, slated for release in April 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has proposed denying China Mobile USA's application to offer telecom services in the US, saying the Chinese government-owned company poses a security risk.
The FCC is scheduled to vote on an order to deny the application at its open meeting on May 9, and Pai yesterday announced his opposition to China Mobile entering the US market.
"After reviewing the evidence in this proceeding, including the input provided by other federal agencies, it is clear that China Mobile's application to provide telecommunications services in our country raises substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks," Pai said. "Therefore, I do not believe that approving it would be in the public interest. I hope that my colleagues will join me in voting to reject China Mobile's application."
Feuding tech giants Amazon and Google have come to an agreement on their streaming services. After over a year of absence, the official YouTube app will return to Amazon Fire TV devices and Fire TV Edition smart TVs. Google pulled the video streaming app in early 2018 after it could not strike a deal with the online retail giant surrounding the availability of its products and services.
According to reports at the time, Google was unhappy with Amazon because the retailer didn't sell a number of its products, including Chromecast and Google Home devices. The two companies couldn't strike a business deal that pleased both parties, so Google removed the official YouTube app from Fire TV devices at the start of 2018. This came after Google also revoked YouTube access on Amazon's Echo Show devices, citing a "broken user experience."
In the time since YouTube left Fire TVs, users have been able to access the site using browsers. But that experience isn't the most user-friendly, so the real losers in this situation were YouTube lovers that owned Fire TV devices.
A new report from Japanese news service Nikkei (Google translation) suggests a rumored "less expensive" version of the Switch will be available this fall. The report also suggests that the new design will not be strictly portable, as some have suggested, and will still be able to dock to a TV set for larger-screen play.
Nikkei's report adds a bit more context to rumors most recently reported by the Wall Street Journal in March regarding Nintendo's plans for two new Switch models in the near future. The second model, according to the WSJ report, would be a more expensive, "enhanced" version of the system with improved hardware power and other special features.
Public translations of Nikkei's report suggest that an "overhauled next-generation model" could actually replace the current Switch and bring enhancements "including usability, improved image rendering, and changes to the operating system, among other things." But Nikkei's development sources suggest that the next step in hardware power may still be in the early planning stages at Nintendo, with no one assigned to lead "conceptual development" as of yet.
Geraldyn “Jerrie” M. Cobb, a noted aviation pioneer and fierce advocate for women flying into space, died March 18 at her home in Florida, her family has revealed. She was 88.
Cobb is perhaps most well-known for her participation in what became known as the "Mercury 13," a group of 13 women who passed preliminary screening processes in 1960 and 1961 to determine their suitability as astronauts under the guidance of Dr. Randolph Lovelace. Cobb scored in the top 2 percent of all who had taken the battery of tests for candidates previously, including both women and men.
However, the privately funded effort was not officially sanctioned by NASA. A Netflix documentary about the experience, released in 2018, offered a clear verdict for why women were excluded from NASA in the space agency's early days—"good old-fashioned prejudice," as one of the participants said.
We at Ars have a unique work situation: instead of congregating in a stuffy office among the maze of stuffy offices in a high-rise in a big city, each of us works from the comfort of our home. Some of us have been doing so for decades, while others have only a few work-from-home years under our belts. It's an adjustment to go from an office environment to your living room, bedroom, or home office, but each of us has found unique ways to make it work and ensure our motivation and productivity levels stay high (most of the time).
That couldn't happen without key things we've grown attached to in our homes. For most of us, making adjustments to our at-home working spaces has been crucial to maintaining our mental and physical wellbeing. While some of us have found we cannot live without certain objects we already used regularly, others among us have invested in things that make our work-from-home lives better. Check out some of our work-from-home essentials below.
Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.
The source code of every Infocom text adventure game has been uploaded to code-sharing repository GitHub, allowing savvy programmers to examine and build upon some of the most beloved works of digital storytelling to date.
There are numerous repositories under the name historicalsource, each for a different game. Titles include, but are not limited to, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Planetfall, Shogun, and several Zork games—plus some more unusual inclusions like an incomplete version of Hitchhiker's sequel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Infocom samplers, and an unreleased adaptation of James Cameron's The Abyss.
The code was uploaded by Jason Scott, an archivist who is the proprietor of textfiles.com. His website describes itself as "a glimpse into the history of writers and artists bound by the 128 characters that the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) allowed them"—in particular those of the 1980s. He announced the GitHub uploads on Twitter earlier this week.
First announced last year, Microsoft's second-generation Surface Hub now has a price and release schedule—and a couple of new siblings, too.
Surface Hub is Microsoft's hardware dedicated to collaboration within meetings. It combines several roles, most notably digital whiteboarding and video conferencing, with Teams, Skype, and OneNote built into a single combined, integrated package. The 50-inch 2S is only vaguely specified: it has a custom-built 3:2 aspect ratio 4K (3840×2560 with 10 bits per pixel) screen with embedded touch sensors that work with both pen and finger. Inside is an 8th-generation Core i5 (Microsoft offered no more specifics than that) with 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD storage; while that may seem miserly, the Surface Hub 2 software is designed so that it doesn't store data locally, so 128GB should be abundant. To support video conferencing, it has an array of eight microphones, front-firing speakers, and a detachable 4K webcam. It will be available in the US from June, with other markets following, for a price of $8,999. One pen and one camera come in the box.
As we've come to expect from Microsoft, the screen looks great. It has a matte finish (reflections are too hard to avoid otherwise), so it doesn't quite have the punch a gloss finish would get it, but it's far better than many of the 1080p screens I've seen in offices around the world. Using techniques refined from building its portable Surface devices, the Hub 2's display integrates the touch-sensing layers into the glass of the screen, a design that makes the screen itself much thinner and reduces the parallax error when using a pen (it was 3mm in the first generation, down to 1.7mm in this).
Samsung's futuristic Galaxy Fold is launching this month, and the device has already made its way to a select group of reviewers and influencers. During the run-up to the device's launch, there were concerns about the durability of the folding display, and now after just a few days with the public, the device is already experiencing problems. There are numerous reports of Samsung's $2,000 device breaking after a single day, sometimes due to poor durability, other times due to user error.
First up, we have a report from Dieter Bohn at The Verge, who had a piece of debris get under the Galaxy Fold display (possibly through the hinge?) and press up against the back of the display. In addition to causing an unsightly bump in the OLED panel, it eventually pressed against the display enough to break it, killing a few horizontal and vertical rows of pixels.
Since the Galaxy Fold folds in half, the flexible OLED display quickly forms a visible crease in the middle. People were worried about the durability of folding a display in half like this, and it looks like Steve Kovach of CNBC has experienced everyone's worst fear: his Galaxy Fold display broke right along the fold crease—all the pixels in the folding area went black and the screen started flickering like crazy.
The United Kingdom's ban on underage access to porn will take effect on July 15, the government announced on Wednesday.
"Adult content is currently far too easy for children to access online," Digital Minister Margot James said. "We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to be online, and these new laws will help us achieve this."
The government is implementing the terms of the Digital Economy Bill that passed the UK parliament in 2017. Under the law, commercial porn sites will be required to verify that a British user is over the age of 18 before allowing him or her to access pornographic material. British censors will also have the power to ban "extreme" online pornography, which includes some types of violent sexual content as well as content that involves sex acts with corpses or animals.
Gamers of a certain age probably remember being wowed by the quick, smooth scaling and rotation effects of the Super Nintendo's much-ballyhooed "Mode 7" graphics. Looking back, though, those gamers might also notice how chunky and pixelated those background transformations could end up looking, especially when viewed on today's high-end screens.
Emulation to the rescue. A modder going by the handle DerKoun has released an "HD Mode 7" patch for the accuracy-focused SNES emulator bsnes. In their own words, the patch "performs Mode 7 transformations... at up to 4 times the horizontal and vertical resolution" of the original hardware.
The results, as you can see in the above gallery and the below YouTube video, are practically miraculous. Pieces of Mode 7 maps that used to be boxy smears of color far in the distance are now sharp, straight lines with distinct borders and distinguishable features. It's like looking at a brand-new game.
Apple has talked to at least four different companies about purchasing lidar sensors, Reuters reports. Apple is also reportedly working on a home-built lidar sensor. The news suggests that Apple is still taking its self-driving car effort, known internally as Project Titan, seriously.
Apple hasn't publicly revealed what kind of self-driving technology it is working on, and indeed reporting suggests that the company's plans have shifted over time. Way back in 2015, the Wall Sreet Journal reported that Apple was developing an electric car and had hundreds of people working on the project. The next year, the New York Times reported that Apple was scaling back the project and was looking to partner with an existing automaker rather than building a car from scratch. By 2017, the Times was reporting that Apple had "put off any notion of an Apple-branded autonomous vehicle and is instead working on the underlying technology that allows a car to drive itself."
Last year, Apple rehired Doug Field, a former Apple executive who had left to oversee Tesla's vehicle engineering—once again sparking speculation that Apple might get into manufacturing. In January, Apple laid off about 200 Project Titan engineers and reassigned others in a shakeup led by Field.
The wave of domain hijacking attacks besetting the Internet over the past few months is worse than previously thought, according to a new report that says state-sponsored actors have continued to brazenly target key infrastructure despite growing awareness of the operation.
The report was published Wednesday by Cisco’s Talos security group. It indicates that three weeks ago, the highjacking campaign targeted the domain of Sweden-based consulting firm Cafax. Cafax’s only listed consultant is Lars-Johan Liman, who is a senior systems specialist at Netnod, a Swedish DNS provider. Netnod is also the operator of i.root, one of the Internet’s foundational 13 DNS root servers. Liman is listed as being responsible for the i-root. As KrebsOnSecurity reported previously, Netnod domains were hijacked in December and January in a campaign aimed at capturing credentials. The Cisco report assessed with high confidence that Cafax was targeted in an attempt to re-establish access to Netnod infrastructure.
Reverse DNS records show that in late March nsd.cafax.com resolved to a malicious IP address controlled by the attackers. NSD is often used to abbreviate name server demon, an open-source app for managing DNS servers. It looks unlikely that the attackers succeeded in actually compromising Cafax, although it wasn't possible to rule out the possibility.
Ars makes every effort to cover its own travel costs. We covered the flight out to Scottsdale, Arizona, but Nikola covered one night in a nearby hotel.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Nikola Motor Company announced a slew of all-electric and hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles on a cool Tuesday night in a warehouse surrounded by desert. The company seems to be positioning itself as the "trucker's Tesla," serving up Budweiser (supplied by partner-customer Anheuser-Busch) and country music to the same industry watchers and investors that Tesla usually courts.
Of the five products that Nikola CEO Trevor Milton talked about on Tuesday night, very little came as a true surprise to watchers of the company. There were two trucks: the Nikola Two and the Nikola Tre (for European markets), as well as a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) for off-roading, a military-grade UTV, and a previously unannounced jet ski.
NEW YORK—On Wednesday morning, the Jaguar I-Pace won this year's World Car of the Year award at the 2019 New York International Auto Show. It beat two other finalists, the Audi e-tron and Volvo's S60 and V60 twins to top honors, as voted by a panel of 86 journalists from around the world. Disclosure: for the second year in a row, I was one of those judges. We were asked to score each eligible car on a range of attributes, including safety, the environment, performance, design, and value, but only for vehicles we actually drove. You can see the list of eligible vehicles for this year's awards here. (Sorry, Tesla fans: the Model 3 is really rather good but went on sale too long ago to be considered for this year's awards.)
I'm not surprised that the I-Pace won; as a battery electric vehicle it scored highly on its green credentials, it's a joy to drive, and it looks stunning inside and out. Much of that can be said about the Volvos and the Audi, but if I had a place to charge it and I could afford one, the I-Pace would be my pick to replace our now-totaled Saabaru. (I don't, can't, and my wife gets to pick the next car anyway.)
The Audi and Jaguar were also contenders for the World Green Car award, joined by the Hyundai Nexo hydrogen fuel cell car. It also really impressed me with a great interior and a calming driving style despite my continued skepticism for hydrogen as a fuel. I've repeatedly complained that it's taking the industry too long to get real about alternative powertrains, but the fact that two-thirds of the "green" cars were also finalists for the big trophy should be grounds for some optimism. In fact, as the Volvos are available as plug-in hybrid EVs, all three of the WCOTY finalists can be driven to the shops and back without burning a drop of gasoline.
Above all the other failings of Nintendo Labo VR, the biggest might be its lack of "Nintendo magic."
Virtual reality has already emerged as a millions-selling gaming genre, complete with beautiful, compelling, and unique experiences that scale from giant HTC Vive rooms to cramped PlayStation VR stations. When Nintendo barges into a new control paradigm, it usually tops the recent competition with either a hardware innovation, a game-design revelation, or a brilliant combination of the two.
But Nintendo Labo VR, the company's first serious VR product, is hamstrung by a nagging feeling that its solution to "VR-on-Switch" is the very thing getting in the way of the fun. Its players are constantly urged to get out of VR, whether by lengthy cardboard build times, pint-sized VR experiences, or the sheer strain of having a 720p Switch screen filtered through a pair of glass lenses.