california

Decrypted: No warrants for web data, UK grid cyberattack, CyberArk buys Idaptive

Posted by | california, cryptography, cyberattacks, cybercrime, Decrypted, electricity, Exit, Extra Crunch, iPhone, Market Analysis, Mobile, north america, ransomware, Recent Funding, Security, senate, Startups, U.S. government | No Comments

One vote.

That’s all it needed for a bipartisan Senate amendment to pass that would have stopped federal authorities from further accessing millions of Americans’ browsing records. But it didn’t. One Republican was in quarantine, another was AWOL. Two Democratic senators — including former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders — were nowhere to be seen and neither returned a request for comment.

It was one of several amendments offered up in the effort to reform and reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the basis of U.S. spying laws. The law, signed in 1978, put restrictions on who intelligence agencies could target with their vast listening and collection stations. But after the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013, lawmakers champed at the bit to change the system to better protect Americans, who are largely protected from the spies within its borders.

One privacy-focused amendment, brought by Sens. Mike Lee and Patrick Leahy, passed — permits for more independent oversight to the secretive and typically one-sided Washington, D.C. court that authorizes government surveillance programs, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That amendment all but guarantees the bill will bounce back to the House for further scrutiny.

Here’s more from the week.


THE BIG PICTURE

Three years after WannaCry, U.S. still on North Korea’s tail

A feature-length profile in Wired magazine looks at the life of Marcus Hutchins, one of the heroes who helped stop the world’s biggest cyberattack three years to the day.

The profile — a 14,000-word cover story — examines his part in halting the spread of the global WannaCry ransomware attack and how his early days led him into a criminal world that prompted him to plead guilty to felony hacking charges. Thanks in part to his efforts in saving the internet, he was sentenced to time served and walked free.

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Ex-Tesla product exec raises $10 million for his mission to upgrade the lowly fuse box

Posted by | Android, Arch Rao, california, Capricorn Investment Group, China, Congruent Ventures, energy, executive, fiction, Hardware Club, hawaii, LG, matt rogers, mobile phones, Nest, online sales, power, SunRun, TC, Tesla | No Comments

Arch Rao closed the $10.1 million financing round for Span, his company pitching homeowners on an upgrade to the fuse box, in the middle of February.

The company had already seen what was happening in China and had a sense of how tough things could be, but was undeterred by the bad news and its potential implications for fundraising or its business.

“I don’t think that the COVID situation was particularly negative,” for the Span business, said Rao. Indeed, Rao said things are already beginning to recover. “With the shelter in place being partially lifted [and] with solar and storage installation having been deemed essential… the large installers like SunRun saw their online sales had increased,” Rao said. “The limitation of this pandemic has been a shift of about a quarter for our upward slope to take effect.”

The forced downtime actually helped the company, said Rao, which worked on new product development and readied itself for what could be a busy season of sales. The pressures that are pushing customers to adopt solar and energy storage technologies — especially in states like California — haven’t gone away.

The state looks prepped for another bad season of wildfires and the stress of power outages and rolling blackouts could again drive owners to invest in off-grid power generation and storage, he said.

But Rao sees Span as far more than just a smart fuse box. Sitting at the intersection of the utility energy grid and the home electrical network gives Span’s device a unique vantage point from which to monitor and manage devices in the home and energy coming to or from it.

And he’s gotten some unique, expert validation of his vision in the form of an investment from Matt Rogers, one of the founders of Nest, which was the first billion dollar company to try and tackle home energy use and efficiency.

Through his investment firm, Incite Ventures, Rogers participated in the latest round for Span. 

 “We founded Nest to reinvent the largest energy user at home, the thermostat. We replaced an ugly household device with something that invited interaction and saved energy,” Rogers said in a statement. “Span has the potential to solve that for every load in the home. That’s why I’ve come on board as an investor to Span and an advisor to Arch.”

Image courtesy of Span

 Rao’s vision for Span is just as expansive as the original idea that brought Nest to the world. 

“Think of our software stack being very similar to an android device,” said Rao. “We have first party apps that Span is deploying and will offer an up our [sotware development kit] that third party vendors will use.”

A user can download the app and select the circuits or loads that they would want to allow an outside vendor to control in exchange for some kind of economic benefit, according to Rao.

“We’re trying to bring what the mobile industry has done for the last decade is an analogous model to what we want to bring in to the digital energy space,” Rao said. Given that the panel sits in a home for roughly thirty years, there’s an opportunity to lock customers in to the Span platform in a way that mobile phones never could.

Some partnerships — like the one Span has signed with battery supplier LG (a company that also makes appliances) gives an idea of the breadth of Rao’s vision.

“LG is a home appliance manufacturer and the road map is for us to tie into other home appliances as well,” said Rao. “You can extrapolate from that to the world of home appliances.”

Investors in the $10.1 million round for the company were led by ArcTern Ventures and joined by new backers Capricorn Investment Group, Incite Ventures. Previous financiers in the company included Wireframe Ventures, Congruent Ventures, Ulu Ventures, Energy Foundry, Hardware Club, 1/0 Capital, and Wells Fargo Strategic Capital, and some of those firms returned for the new funding, the company said.

Driving their interest was the company’s position at the intersection between the grid and the home — and its attendant ability to monitor and control onside generation, storage and the majority of a consumer’s energy loads.  

The company is focusing its initial sales efforts on the markets of Hawaii and California where strong government incentives can help to subsidize costs and drive demand, the company said.

In addition to the new investment round, Mary Powell, former chief executive of Vermont utility Green Mountain Power will join Span’s board as an independent member. Powell and Rao have a relationship that dates back to the startup executive’s work with Tesla. 

“She set an example of what a customer-focused utility could look like, bringing the Tesla Powerwall to thousands of customers in the state of Vermont,” said Rao. “I’m excited to work with her again as we bring our panel to market.”

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Polestar’s first all-electric vehicle will start at $59,900 in the US

Posted by | Android, automotive, automotive industry, california, cars, China, electric vehicles, Europe, Geely, Google Assistant, Google Play Store, Google-Maps, linux, New York, operating system, Polestar, smartphones, TC, Tesla, tesla model 3, United States, Volvo Cars, west coast | No Comments

Polestar, the electric performance brand spun out of Volvo, said the base price of its first all-electric vehicle will be $59,900 in the United States, lower than originally targeted.

The 2021 Polestar 2, an electric performance fastback, is the first EV to come out of a brand that was relaunched three years ago. Polestar, once a high-performance brand under Volvo Cars, was recast as an electric performance brand in 2017. The aim was to produce exciting and fun-to-drive electric vehicles — a niche that Tesla was the first to fill and has dominated ever since.

The company believes the vehicle is well-positioned for a successful entry into the U.S. market thanks to its lower pricing, tax incentives and the ability for customers to buy it online, said Gregor Hembrough, who heads up Polestar USA. The U.S. prices are also below incentive thresholds in a few critical markets such as California and New York.

Polestar has been trickling out announcements around the upcoming Polestar 2 for months now, including pricing for Europe, which starts at €58,800. On Thursday, the company revealed a few more pricing details for the various options customers can buy, including a $5,000 performance pack, a $4,000 upgrade of Nappa leather interior and $1,200 for 20-inch alloy wheels.

The Polestar 2 will likely be held up as a possible competitor to the Tesla Model 3. The pricing on the two vehicles don’t quite match up unless the $7,500 federal tax incentive, for which Polestar still qualifies, is considered. Tesla no longer qualifies for the federal tax credit because it has sold more than 200,000 electric vehicles.

Stripping out the incentives, the base price of the Polestar 2 is slightly more expensive than the performance version of the Model 3, which starts at $56,990.

Until the automaker begins delivery to the U.S., which is expected this summer, it won’t be clear how it stacks up against the Model 3.

Polestar is aiming to attract customers with tech and the performance specs of the fastback, which produces 408 horsepower, 487 pound feet of torque and has a 78 kWh battery pack that delivers an estimated range of 292 miles under Europe’s WLTP. Polestar hasn’t released the EPA estimates for the Polestar 2.

The interior of the Polestar 2, which features Google’s Android Automotive operating system.

The Polestar 2’s infotainment system will be powered by Android OS and, as a result, bring into the car embedded Google services such as Google Assistant, Google Maps and the Google Play Store. This shouldn’t be confused with Android Auto, which is a secondary interface that lies on top of an operating system. Android OS is modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. But instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars.

Polestar, which is jointly owned by Volvo Car Group and Zhejiang Geely Holding of China, plans to open physical retail showrooms called Polestar Spaces once stay-at-home orders prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted. The first of these locations will open on the West Coast of the United States and New
York in late summer 2020, the company said. The Polestar 2 will be available in all 50 states to buy or lease.

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Chinese startup Rokid pitches COVID-19 detection glasses in US

Posted by | ambient intelligence, america, artificial intelligence, california, China, COVID-19, data management, Director, e-commerce, Emerging-Technologies, facial recognition, Gadgets, Hangzhou, Internet of Things, IoT, Johns Hopkins University, Larry Liu, law enforcement, Liang Guan, Megvii, president, Qualcomm, rokid, SenseTime, smartglasses, Startups, surveillance, t1, TC, tech startups, TechCrunch, technology, trump, ubiquitous computing, United States, wearable devices, wearable technology, Weee!, White House, world health organization | No Comments

Thermal imaging wearables used in China to detect COVID-19 symptoms could soon be deployed in the U.S.

Hangzhou based AI startup Rokid is in talks with several companies to sell its T1 glasses in America, according to Rokid’s U.S. Director Liang Guan.

Rokid is among a wave of Chinese companies creating technology to address the coronavirus pandemic, which has dealt a blow to the country’s economy. 

Per info Guan provided, Rokid’s T1 thermal glasses use an infrared sensor to detect the temperatures of up to 200 people within two minutes from as far as three meters. The devices carry a Qualcomm CPU, 12 megapixel camera and offer augmented reality features — for hands free voice controls — to record live photos and videos.

The Chinese startup (with a San Francisco office) plans B2B sales of its wearable devices in the U.S. to assist businesses, hospitals and law enforcement with COVID-19 detection, according to Guan.

Rokid is also offering IoT and software solutions for facial recognition and data management, as part of its T1 packages.

Image Credits: Rokid

The company is working on deals with U.S. hospitals and local municipalities to deliver shipments of the smart glasses, but could not disclose names due to confidentiality agreements.

One commercial venture that could use the thermal imaging wearables is California based e-commerce company Weee!.

The online grocer is evaluating Rokid’s T1 glasses to monitor temperatures of its warehouse employees throughout the day, Weee! founder Larry Liu confirmed to TechCrunch via email.

On procedures, to manage those who exhibit COVID-19 related symptoms —  such as referring them for testing — that’s something for end-users to determine, according to Rokid. “The clients can do the follow-up action, such as giving them a mask or asking to work from home,” Guan said.

The T1 glasses connect via USB and can be set up for IoT capabilities for commercial clients to sync to their own platforms. The product could capture the attention of U.S. regulators, who have become increasingly wary of Chinese tech firms’ handling of American citizen data. Rokid says it doesn’t collect info from the T1 glasses directly.

“Regarding this module…we do not take any data to the cloud. For customers, privacy is very important to them. The data measurement is stored locally,” according to Guan.

Image Credits: Rokid

Founded in 2014 by Eric Wong and Mingming Zhu, Rokid raised $100 million at the Series B level in 2018. The business focuses primarily on developing AI and AR tech for applications from manufacturing to gaming, but developed the T1 glasses in response to China’s COVID-19 outbreak.

The goal was to provide businesses and authorities a thermal imaging detection tool that is wearable, compact, mobile and more effective than the common options.

Large scanning stations, such as those used in airports, have drawbacks in not being easily portable and handheld devices — with infrared thermometers — pose risks.

“You have to point them to people’s foreheads…you need to be really close, it’s not wearable and you’re not practicing social distancing to use those,” Guang said.

Rokid pivoted to create the T1 glasses shortly after COVID-19 broke out in China in late 2019. Other Chinese tech startups that have joined the virus-fighting mission include face recognition giant SenseTime — which has installed thermal imaging systems at railway stations across China — and its close rival Megvii, which has set up similar thermal solutions in supermarkets.

On Rokid’s motivations, “At the time we thought something like this can really help the frontline people still working,” Guang said.

The startup’s engineering team developed the T1 product in just under two months. In China, Rokid’s smart glasses have been used by national parks staff, in schools and by national authorities to screen for COVID-19 symptoms.

Temperature detectors have their limitation, however, as research has shown that more than half of China’s COVID-19 patients did not have a fever when admitted to hospital.

Source: Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Research Center

The growth rate of China’s coronavirus cases — which peaked to 83,306 and led to 3,345 deaths — has declined and parts of the country have begun to reopen from lockdown. There is still debate, however, about the veracity of data coming out of China on COVID-19. That led to a row between the White House and World Health Organization, which ultimately saw President Trump halt U.S. contributions to the global body this week.

As COVID-19 cases and related deaths continue to rise in the U.S., technological innovation will become central to the health response and finding some new normal for personal mobility and economic activity. That will certainly bring fresh facets to the common tech conundrums — namely measuring efficacy and balancing benefits with personal privacy.

For its part, Rokid already has new features for its T1 thermal smart glasses in the works. The Chinese startup plans to upgrade the device to take multiple temperature readings simultaneously for up to four people at a time.

“That’s not on the market yet, but we will release this very soon as an update,” said Rokid’s U.S. Director Liang Guan .

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Google is now publishing coronavirus mobility reports, feeding off users’ location history

Posted by | california, China, coronavirus, COVID-19, data protection, Europe, european commission, european union, France, Google, gps, Italy, Mobile, mobile devices, privacy, smartphone, spain, targeted advertising, TC, United States, Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye | No Comments

Google is giving the world a clearer glimpse of exactly how much it knows about people everywhere — using the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to repackage its persistent tracking of where users go and what they do as a public good in the midst of a pandemic.

In a blog post today, the tech giant announced the publication of what it’s branding COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, an in-house analysis of the much more granular location data it maps and tracks to fuel its ad-targeting, product development and wider commercial strategy to showcase aggregated changes in population movements around the world.

The coronavirus pandemic has generated a worldwide scramble for tools and data to inform government responses. In the EU, for example, the European Commission has been leaning on telcos to hand over anonymized and aggregated location data to model the spread of COVID-19.

Google’s data dump looks intended to dangle a similar idea of public policy utility while providing an eyeball-grabbing public snapshot of mobility shifts via data pulled off of its global user-base.

In terms of actual utility for policymakers, Google’s suggestions are pretty vague. The reports could help government and public health officials “understand changes in essential trips that can shape recommendations on business hours or inform delivery service offerings,” it writes.

“Similarly, persistent visits to transportation hubs might indicate the need to add additional buses or trains in order to allow people who need to travel room to spread out for social distancing,” it goes on. “Ultimately, understanding not only whether people are traveling, but also trends in destinations, can help officials design guidance to protect public health and essential needs of communities.”

The location data Google is making public is similarly fuzzy — to avoid inviting a privacy storm — with the company writing it’s using “the same world-class anonymization technology that we use in our products every day,” as it puts it.

“For these reports, we use differential privacy, which adds artificial noise to our datasets enabling high quality results without identifying any individual person,” Google writes. “The insights are created with aggregated, anonymized sets of data from users who have turned on the Location History setting, which is off by default.”

“In Google Maps, we use aggregated, anonymized data showing how busy certain types of places are—helping identify when a local business tends to be the most crowded. We have heard from public health officials that this same type of aggregated, anonymized data could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat COVID-19,” it adds, tacitly linking an existing offering in Google Maps to a coronavirus-busting cause.

The reports consist of per country, or per state, downloads (with 131 countries covered initially), further broken down into regions/counties — with Google offering an analysis of how community mobility has changed vs a baseline average before COVID-19 arrived to change everything.

So, for example, a March 29 report for the whole of the U.S. shows a 47 percent drop in retail and recreation activity vs the pre-CV period; a 22% drop in grocery & pharmacy; and a 19% drop in visits to parks and beaches, per Google’s data.

While the same date report for California shows a considerably greater drop in the latter (down 38% compared to the regional baseline); and slightly bigger decreases in both retail and recreation activity (down 50%) and grocery & pharmacy (-24%).

Google says it’s using “aggregated, anonymized data to chart movement trends over time by geography, across different high-level categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential.” The trends are displayed over several weeks, with the most recent information representing 48-to-72 hours prior, it adds.

The company says it’s not publishing the “absolute number of visits” as a privacy step, adding: “To protect people’s privacy, no personally identifiable information, like an individual’s location, contacts or movement, is made available at any point.”

Google’s location mobility report for Italy, which remains the European country hardest hit by the virus, illustrates the extent of the change from lockdown measures applied to the population — with retail & recreation dropping 94% vs Google’s baseline; grocery & pharmacy down 85%; and a 90% drop in trips to parks and beaches.

The same report shows an 87% drop in activity at transit stations; a 63% drop in activity at workplaces; and an increase of almost a quarter (24%) of activity in residential locations — as many Italians stay at home instead of commuting to work.

It’s a similar story in Spain — another country hard-hit by COVID-19. Though Google’s data for France suggests instructions to stay-at-home may not be being quite as keenly observed by its users there, with only an 18% increase in activity at residential locations and a 56% drop in activity at workplaces. (Perhaps because the pandemic has so far had a less severe impact on France, although numbers of confirmed cases and deaths continue to rise across the region.)

While policymakers have been scrambling for data and tools to inform their responses to COVID-19, privacy experts and civil liberties campaigners have rushed to voice concerns about the impacts of such data-fueled efforts on individual rights, while also querying the wider utility of some of this tracking.

And yes, the disclaimer is very broad. I’d say, this is largely a PR move.

Apart from this, Google must be held accountable for its many other secondary data uses. And Google/Alphabet is far too powerful, which must be addressed at several levels, soon. https://t.co/oksJgQAPAY

— Wolfie Christl (@WolfieChristl) April 3, 2020

Contacts tracing is another area where apps are fast being touted as a potential solution to get the West out of economically crushing population lockdowns — opening up the possibility of people’s mobile devices becoming a tool to enforce lockdowns, as has happened in China.

“Large-scale collection of personal data can quickly lead to mass surveillance,” is the succinct warning of a trio of academics from London’s Imperial College’s Computational Privacy Group, who have compiled their privacy concerns vis-a-vis COVID-19 contacts tracing apps into a set of eight questions app developers should be asking.

Discussing Google’s release of mobile location data for a COVID-19 cause, the head of the group, Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, gave a general thumbs up to the steps it’s taken to shrink privacy risks. Although he also called for Google to provide more detail about the technical processes it’s using in order that external researchers can better assess the robustness of the claimed privacy protections. Such scrutiny is of pressing importance with so much coronavirus-related data grabbing going on right now, he argues.

“It is all aggregated; they normalize to a specific set of dates; they threshold when there are too few people and on top of this they add noise to make — according to them — the data differentially private. So from a pure anonymization perspective it’s good work,” de Montjoye told TechCrunch, discussing the technical side of Google’s release of location data. “Those are three of the big ‘levers’ that you can use to limit risk. And I think it’s well done.”

“But — especially in times like this when there’s a lot of people using data — I think what we would have liked is more details. There’s a lot of assumptions on thresholding, on how do you apply differential privacy, right?… What kind of assumptions are you making?” he added, querying how much noise Google is adding to the data, for example. “It would be good to have a bit more detail on how they applied [differential privacy]… Especially in times like this it is good to be… overly transparent.”

While Google’s mobility data release might appear to overlap in purpose with the Commission’s call for EU telco metadata for COVID-19 tracking, de Montjoye points out there are likely to be key differences based on the different data sources.

“It’s always a trade off between the two,” he says. “It’s basically telco data would probably be less fine-grained, because GPS is much more precise spatially and you might have more data points per person per day with GPS than what you get with mobile phone but on the other hand the carrier/telco data is much more representative — it’s not only smartphone, and it’s not only people who have latitude on, it’s everyone in the country, including non smartphone.”

There may be country specific questions that could be better addressed by working with a local carrier, he also suggested. (The Commission has said it’s intending to have one carrier per EU Member State providing anonymized and aggregated metadata.)

On the topical question of whether location data can ever be truly anonymized, de Montjoye — an expert in data reidentification — gave a “yes and no” response, arguing that original location data is “probably really, really hard to anonymize”.

“Can you process this data and make the aggregate results anonymous? Probably, probably, probably yes — it always depends. But then it also means that the original data exists… Then it’s mostly a question of the controls you have in place to ensure the process that leads to generating those aggregates does not contain privacy risks,” he added.

Perhaps a bigger question related to Google’s location data dump is around the issue of legal consent to be tracking people in the first place.

While the tech giant claims the data is based on opt-ins to location tracking the company was fined $57M by France’s data watchdog last year for a lack of transparency over how it uses people’s data.

Then, earlier this year, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) — now the lead privacy regulator for Google in Europe — confirmed a formal probe of the company’s location tracking activity, following a 2018 complaint by EU consumers groups which accuses Google of using manipulative tactics in order to keep tracking web users’ locations for ad-targeting purposes.

“The issues raised within the concerns relate to the legality of Google’s processing of location data and the transparency surrounding that processing,” said the DPC in a statement in February, announcing the investigation.

The legal questions hanging over Google’s consent to track people likely explains the repeat references in its blog post to people choosing to opt in and having the ability to clear their Location History via settings. (“Users who have Location History turned on can choose to turn the setting off at any time from their Google Account, and can always delete Location History data directly from their Timeline,” it writes in one example.)

In addition to offering up coronavirus mobility porn reports — which Google specifies it will continue to do throughout the crisis — the company says it’s collaborating with “select epidemiologists working on COVID-19 with updates to an existing aggregate, anonymized dataset that can be used to better understand and forecast the pandemic.”

“Data of this type has helped researchers look into predicting epidemics, plan urban and transit infrastructure, and understand people’s mobility and responses to conflict and natural disasters,” it adds.

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Oura partners with UCSF to determine if its smart ring can help detect COVID-19 early

Posted by | california, coronavirus, COVID-19, finland, Frontline, Gadgets, hardware, Health, oura, science, Startups, TC, University of California | No Comments

Startups continue to find new ways to contribute to ongoing efforts to fight the global spread of COVID-19 during the current global coronavirus pandemic, and personal health hardware-maker Oura is no exception. The smart ring startup is working with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) on a new study to see if its device can help detect early physiological signs that might indicate the onset of COVID-19.

This study will include two parts: Around 2,000 frontline healthcare professionals will get Oura rings to wear during the study. The rings track a user’s body temperature continuously, as well as their sleep patterns, heart rate and activity levels. Fever is a common and early symptom that could indicate COVID-19, and a continuously updated body temperature reading could detect fever very early. That’s not enough to confirm a case of COVID-19, of course, but the purpose of the study is to determine whether the range of readings Oura’s ring tracks might, taken together and with other signals, be useful in some kind of early detection effort.

There’s good reason why researches believe that Oura could be used in early detection: An Oura user in Finland claims the ring alerted him to the fact that he was ill before he was displaying any overt symptoms of the virus, prompting him to get tested (relatively easy in that country). Test results confirmed that while asymptomatic, he had indeed contracted COVID-19. As a result, UCSF researcher Dr. Ashley Mason hypothesizes that the Oura ring could anticipate COVID-19 onset by as many as two to three days before the onset of more obvious symptoms, like coughing.

Being able to detect the presence of the virus in an individual early is key to global containment efforts, but even more important when it comes to frontline healthcare workers. The earlier a frontline responder is diagnosed, the less chance that they expose their colleagues or others they’re working around in close quarters.

In addition to the Oura rings being provided to study participants, the plan is to expand it to include Oura’s general user population, meaning its more than 150,000 global users can opt in to participate and add to the overall pool of available information with their ring’s readings and daily symptom surveys. For existing Oura users, it’s a relatively low-lift way to contribute to the global effort to combat the pandemic — without even leaving the house.

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Apple agrees to settlement of up to $500 million from lawsuit alleging it throttled older phones

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, california, hardware, iOS, iOS 10, ios 11, iPhone, iPhone SE, lawsuit, Mobile, mobile phones, operating systems, san jose, smartphones, TC | No Comments

Apple Inc. has agreed to pay a settlement of up to $500 million, following a lawsuit accusing the company of intentionally slowing down the performance of older phones to encourage customers to buy newer models or fresh batteries.

The preliminary proposed class action lawsuit was disclosed Friday night and would see Apple pay consumers $25 per phone, as reported by Reuters.

Any settlement needs to be approved by U.S. District Judge Edward Davila, who oversaw the case brought in San Jose, Calif.

For consumers, the $25 payout may seem a little low, as a new iPhone can cost anywhere from $649 to $849 (for a lower-end model). The cost may be varied depending on how many people sue, and the company is set to pay at least $310 million under the terms of the settlement.

For its part, Apple is denying wrongdoing in the case and said it was only agreeing to avoid the cost and burden associated with the lawsuit.

Any U.S. owner of the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, 7 Plus or SE that ran on iOS 10.2.1 or any of the later operating systems are covered by the settlement. Users of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus which ran iOS 11.2 or later before Dec. 21, 2017 are also covered by the settlement.

Apple customers said their phone performance slowed down after they installed Apple software updates. The customers contend that Apple’s software updates intentionally degraded the performance of older models to encourage customers to unnecessarily upgrade to newer models or install new batteries.

Lawyers for Apple said that the problems were mainly due to high usage, temperature changes and other issues and that its engineers tried to address the problems as quickly as possible.

In February, Apple was fined $27 million by the French government for the same issue.

As we reported at the time:

A couple of years ago, Apple  released an iOS update (10.2.1 and 11.2) that introduced a new feature for older devices. If your battery is getting old, iOS would cap peak performances as your battery might not be able to handle quick peaks of power draw. The result of those peaks is that your iPhone might shut down abruptly.

While that feature is technically fine, Apple failed to inform users that it was capping performances on some devices. The company apologized and introduced a new software feature called “Battery Health,” which lets you check the maximum capacity of your battery and if your iPhone can reach peak performance.

And that’s the issue here. Many users may have noticed that their phone would get slower when they play a game, for instance. But they didn’t know that replacing the battery would fix that. Some users may have bought new phones even though their existing phone was working fine.

Shares of Apple were up more than 9% today in a general market rally.

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Ghost wants to retrofit your car so it can drive itself on highways in 2020

Posted by | Android, Argo AI, Automation, automotive, autonomous car, AV, california, controller, Emerging-Technologies, founders fund, Ghost Locomotion, gps, IBM, Keith Rabois, Khosla Ventures, Lyft, machine learning, Mike Speiser, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Pure Storage, robotics, self-driving cars, sutter hill ventures, TC, technology, Tesla, transport, Transportation, Uber, unmanned ground vehicles, waymo, zoox | No Comments

A new autonomous vehicle company is on the streets — and unbeknownst to most, has been since 2017. Unlike the majority in this burgeoning industry, this new entrant isn’t trying to launch a robotaxi service or sell a self-driving system to suppliers and automakers. It’s not aiming for autonomous delivery, either.

Ghost Locomotion, which emerged Thursday from stealth with $63.7 million in investment from Keith Rabois at Founders Fund, Vinod Khosla at Khosla Ventures and Mike Speiser at Sutter Hill Ventures, is targeting your vehicle.

Ghost is developing a kit that will allow privately owned passenger vehicles to drive autonomously on highways. And the company says it will deliver in 2020. A price has not been set, but the company says it will be less than what Tesla charges for its Autopilot package that includes “full self-driving” or FSD. FSD currently costs $7,000.

This kit isn’t going to give a vehicle a superior advanced driving assistance system. The kit will let human drivers hand control of their vehicle over to a computer, allowing them to do other activities such as look at their phone or even doze off.

The idea might sound similar to what Comma.ai is working on, Tesla hopes to achieve or even the early business model of Cruise. Ghost CEO and co-founder John Hayes says what they’re doing is different.

A different approach

The biggest players in the industry — companies like Waymo, Cruise, Zoox and Argo AI — are trying to solve a really hard problem, which is driving in urban areas, Hayes told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

“It didn’t seem like anyone was actually trying to solve driving on the highways,” said Hayes, who previously founded Pure Storage in 2009. “At the time, we were told that this is so easy that surely the automakers will solve this any day now. And that really hasn’t happened.”

Hayes noted that automakers have continued to make progress in advanced driver assistance systems. The more advanced versions of these systems provide what the SAE describes as Level 2 automation, which means two primary control functions are automated. Tesla’s Autopilot system is a good example of this; when engaged, it automatically steers and has traffic-aware cruise control, which maintains the car’s speed in relation to surrounding traffic. But like all Level 2 systems, the driver is still in the loop.

Ghost wants to take the human out of the loop when they’re driving on highways.

“We’re taking, in some ways, a classic startup attitude to this, which is ‘what is the simplest product that we can perfect, that will put self driving in the hands of ordinary consumers?’ ” Hayes said. “And so we take people’s existing cars and we make them self-driving cars.”

The kit

Ghost is tackling that challenge with software and hardware.

The kit involves hardware like sensors and a computer that is installed in the trunk and connected to the controller area network (CAN) of the vehicle. The CAN bus is essentially the nervous system of the car and allows various parts to communicate with each other.

Vehicles must have a CAN bus and electronic steering to be able to use the kit.

The camera sensors are distributed throughout the vehicle. Cameras are integrated into what looks like a license plate holder at the back of the vehicle, as well as another set that are embedded behind the rearview mirror.

A third device with cameras is attached to the frame around the window of the door (see below).

Initially, this kit will be an aftermarket product; the company is starting with the 20 most popular car brands and will expand from there.

Ghost intends to set up retail spaces where a car owner can see the product and have it installed. But eventually, Hayes said, he believes the kit will become part of the vehicle itself, much like GPS or satellite radio has evolved.

While hardware is the most visible piece of Ghost, the company’s 75 employees have dedicated much of their time on the driving algorithm. It’s here, Hayes says, where Ghost stands apart.

How Ghost is building a driver

Ghost is not testing its self-driving system on public roads, an approach nearly every other AV company has taken. There are 63 companies in California that have received permits from the Department of Motor Vehicles to test autonomous vehicle technology (always with a human safety driver behind the wheel) on public roads.

Ghost’s entire approach is based on an axiom that the human driver is fundamentally correct. It begins by collecting mass amounts of video data from kits that are installed on the cars of high-mileage drivers. Ghost then uses models to figure out what’s going on in the scene and combines that with other data, including how the person is driving by measuring the actions they take.

It doesn’t take long or much data to model ordinary driving, actions like staying in a lane, braking and changing lanes on a highway. But that doesn’t “solve” self-driving on highways because the hard part is how to build a driver that can handle the odd occurrences, such as swerving, or correct for those bad behaviors.

Ghost’s system uses machine learning to find more interesting scenarios in the reams of data it collects and builds training models based on them.

The company’s kits are already installed on the cars of high-mileage drivers like Uber and Lyft drivers and commuters. Ghost has recruited dozens of drivers and plans to have its kits in hundreds of cars by the end of the year. By next year, Hayes says the kits will be in thousands of cars, all for the purpose of collecting data.

The background of the executive team, including co-founder and CTO Volkmar Uhlig, as well as the rest of their employees, provides some hints as to how they’re approaching the software and its integration with hardware.

Employees are data scientists and engineers, not roboticists. A dive into their resumes on LinkedIn and not one comes from another autonomous vehicle company, which is unusual in this era of talent poaching.

For instance, Uhlig, who started his career at IBM Watson Research, co-founded Adello and was the architect behind the company’s programmatic media trading platform. Before that, he built Teza Technologies, a high-frequency trading platform. While earning his PhD in computer science he was part of a team that architected the L4 Pistachio microkernel, which is commercially deployed in more than 3 billion mobile Apple and Android devices.

If Ghost is able to validate its system — which Hayes says is baked into its entire approach — privately owned self-driving cars could be on the highways by next year. While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could potentially step in, Ghost’s approach, like Tesla, hits a sweet spot of non-regulation. It’s a space, that Hayes notes, where the government has not yet chosen to regulate.

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MediaLab acquires messaging app Kik, expanding its app portfolio

Posted by | Apps, california, Facebook, Instant Messaging, Kik, Kik Messenger, lightspeed venture partners, Los Angeles, Media, michael heyward, Mobile, operating systems, programmatic advertising, secret, Sequoia, shasta ventures, social media, social network, social networks, Software, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, whisper, Yik Yak | No Comments

Popular messaging app Kik is, indeed, “here to stay” following an acquisition by the Los Angeles-based multimedia holding company, MediaLab.

It echoes the same message from Kik’s chief executive Tim Livingston last week when he rebuffed earlier reports that the company would shut down amid an ongoing battle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Livingston had tweeted that Kik had signed a letter-of-intent with a “great company,” but that it was “not a done deal.”

Now we know the the company: MediaLab. In a post on Kik’s blog on Friday the MediaLab said that it has “finalized an agreement” to acquire Kik Messenger.

Kik is one of those amazing places that brings us back to those early aspirations,” the blog post read. “Whether it be a passion for an obscure manga or your favorite football team, Kik has shown an incredible ability to provide a platform for new friendships to be forged through your mobile phone.”

MediaLab is a holding company that owns several other mobile properties, including anonymous social network Whisper and mixtape app DatPiff. In acquiring Kik, the holding company is expanding its mobile app portfolio.

MediaLab said it has “some ideas” for developing Kik going forwards, including making the app faster and reducing the amount of unwanted messages and spam bots. The company said it will introduce ads “over the coming weeks” in order to “cover our expenses” of running the platform.

Buying the Kik messaging platform adds another social media weapon to the arsenal for MediaLab and its chief executive, Michael Heyward .

Heyward was an early star of the budding Los Angeles startup community with the launch of the anonymous messaging service, Whisper nearly 8 years ago. At the time, the company was one of a clutch of anonymous apps — including Secret and YikYak — that raised tens of millions of dollars to offer online iterations of the confessional journal, the burn book, and the bathroom wall (respectively).

In 2017, TechCrunch reported that Whisper underwent significant layoffs to stave off collapse and put the company on a path to profitability.

At the time Whisper had roughly 20 million monthly active users across its app and website, which the company was looking to monetize through programmatic advertising, rather than brand-sponsored campaigns that had provided some of the company’s revenue in the past. Through widgets, the company had an additional 10 million viewers of its content per-month using various widgets and a reach of around 250 million through Facebook and other social networks on which it published posts.

People familiar with the company said at the time that it was seeing gross revenues of roughly $1 million and was going to hit $12.5 million in revenue for that calendar year. By 2018 that revenue was expected to top $30 million, according to sources at the time.

The flagship Whisper app let people post short bits of anonymous text and images that other folks could like or comment about. Heyward intended it to be a way for people to share more personal and intimate details —  to be a social network for confessions and support rather than harassment.

The idea caught on with investors and Whisper managed to raise $61 million from investors including Sequoia, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Shasta Ventures . Whisper’s last round was a $36 million Series C back in 2014.

Fast forward to 2018 when Secret had been shut down for three years while YikYak also went bust — selling off its engineering team to Square for around $1 million. Whisper, meanwhile, seemingly set up MediaLab as a holding company for its app and additional assets that Heyward would look to roll up. The company filed registration documents in California in June 2018.

According to the filings, Susan Stone, a partner with the investment firm Sierra Wasatch Capital, is listed as a director for the company.

Heyward did not respond to a request for comment.

Zack Whittaker contributed reporting for this article. 

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Oru’s new foldable kayak weighs under 20 lbs and assembles in just 2 minutes

Posted by | california, Gadgets, hardware, paddle, TC, Transportation, Vehicles, water sports, watercraft | No Comments

California-based kayak maker Oru has built a great brand on the strength of its origami-inspired folding kayaks, and now it’s launching its lightest and most portable model yet with a new Kickstarter project. The Oru Inlet miraculously packs up to the size of a suitcase, weights less than 20 pounds and can unfold and be on the water in as little as two minutes.

Even if you’re trying it for the first time, or just aren’t particularly handy, the kayak still sets up in five minutes, at most, according to Oru — which, speaking from personal experience, is a lot faster than its other models. Which isn’t to say that those aren’t also impressive, as they still allow you to carry around what amounts to luggage and have a durable, fun watercraft in around 10 minutes. But the Inlet takes this concept to a whole new level, and looks like the ideal casual kayak for dipping out for a quick paddle in and around the city.

243ee7c707b6a6115a6fb8dd838ce3ba originalThe kayak itself is 10 feet long, which is definitely on the shorter side, but a very common size for recreational boats. It features a wide, open cockpit design with an integrated floorboard, an adjustable footrest and backrest and bulkheads to keep the ship sturdier on the water. Like all the Oru boats, it’s built of a corrugated plastic that’s incredibly durable (my own Oru kayak has easily withstood the rigors of multiple years of use) and is super lightweight.

6fa465f2f9aed2949d5e0baac5cd907c originalWhen packed up, the Inlet is still only 19-inches tall, 42-inches long and 10-inches wide. That makes it around the size of a rather long duffle, but it’s still plenty small enough to tuck into the trunk of a car, or hide away in a condo closet or storage locker. Assembly is a three-step process, and there are no tools required, so it really is optimized for the minimalist city adventurer. Oru’s four-piece portable paddle can also pack inside the folded Inlet for super easy transportation.

f6dd22b65f1fdc80e17c83d5026d203b originalOverall, the Inlet looks like it has all the ingredients that have made Oru successful as a startup and indie boat maker thus far, with plenty of added convenience features that make it even better suited to weekend warriors and people who just want to be able to explore the waterways that surround them without a lot of fuss and preparation.

The crowdfunding campaign has already passed its goal, and Oru has proven itself able to deliver consistently, so you can be confident that it will ship these boats. It’s currently listing a May 2020 time frame for delivery, and $749 is the entry-level price for backers to pick up an Inlet, with varying levels for adding accessories or more kayaks.

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