Google Fi; Facebook Tests Word & Phrase Blocking; YouTube Originals Going Ad-Supported in 2020; Phishing Warning- Pharma Industry Targeted

It’s been 3 years since Google first started experimenting with what they called Project Fi, an MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator. Now, rebranded as Google Fi, Google’s cell service is ready for prime time. As an MVNO, it rides on other carriers. Theverge.com says it will run on the majority of Android and also on iOS devices. A difference is that on Android phones from Google like the Pixel, it can hop between T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular. On iOS, as well as other Androids, it seems to be limited to T-Mobile. The big selling point is price…$20 per phone line and $10 per gig of data you use…capped at $60 under a program they call ‘Bill Protection.’ They are offering a special deal for phone purchases and signups today only, November 28th.

Facebook is testing out the ability to block certain words, phrases, and even some emoji from your wall. 9to5mac.com reports that such things as those spammy Ray Ban ads could become history if this makes it to general Facebook release, as could some political posts. A rub…the people who post the stuff and THEIR friends would still be able to see the words or items. It appears that the system is being built on a filtering feature already available in Facebook owned Instagram.

It looks like YouTube Originals will move out from behind the paywall, and become ad-supported. According to techcrunch.com, many Originals, which presently require a monthly subscription, will all become ad-supported and otherwise free. Some content will become free next year, but all should be out from paywall jail by 2020.

Be extra vigilant if you work in the pharmaceutical sector! Hackers are focusing phishing and cyber attacks on companies in the sector at a much higher rate, more than doubling since last year. Zdnet.com says last quarter, there was an average of 71 email fraud attacks per company…a 149% jump over last year. Construction firms are #2 for phishing attacks, getting 61 per company last quarter. Real estate is #3, at 54 attacks per firm last quarter, all according to Proofpoint. If you’re in doubt, don’t click or respond, and notify you’re IT department.


Facebook Warned About Russia in 2014; Shopping on Phones Explodes, Top 5 Amazon Items; 10% iPhone Tariff Threat

Things just keep looking worse for Facebook when it comes to protecting user data. Businessinsider.com says a Facebook engineer warned the company in 2014 about a potential giant data issue involving Russia. This info is coming out after the British Parliament got hold of a cache of sealed Facebook documents. UK politician Damian Collins, who reviewed the documents, made the disclosure today at a hearing in front of the International Grand Committee. Mark Zuckerberg refused to show for the hearing, sending policy chief Richard Allen. Allen if this information had been given to an external body (like an agency of the US government) at the time. Allen refused to answer. The documents are sealed under court order in California, but they were published in the United Kingdom under UK parliamentary privilege.

A couple months back, a panicked friend told me ‘My phone is my life,’ as it was temporarily missing. That is more true that ever now. Cnet.com reports that total sales on smartphones through Cyber Monday was $2.2 billion, up from $1.4 billion last year! On Cyber Monday, phones accounted for 47% of traffic to online stores and 36% of actual sales. Overall Cyber Monday sales were $7.9 million, so the mobile component was substantial. Since the 1st of November $50.6 billion has been spent online, up 20% from last year!

Amazon has announced its 5 best sellers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Topping the list, according to bgr.com, the Amazon Echo Dot at $29.99 instead of $50 In the #2 spot, AncestryDNA: Genetic Testing Ethnicity (still on sale at $59 btw). The third place seller was the adored Instant Pot DUO60 6 Qt 7-in-1 Multi-Programmable Pressure Cooker…still at $30 bucks off. Bose Quiet Comfort 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones bagged the 4th place spot…and those are now sold out. #5 was Michelle Obama’s new book Becoming, which is still available at a $20 discount.

Yesterday, Donald Trump threatened to slap a 10% tariff on iPhones and MacBooks imported from China, and the stock acted accordingly. Today, Tim Cook is visiting an Idaho school district with Ivanka Trump to talk tech. Coincidence? I doubt it. So far, Cook has gotten Trump to lay off Apple products. Macrumors.com says in 2016 Apple donated an iPad to every student, a Mac and iPad to every teacher, and an Apple TV to each classroom via its ConnectED initiative. Will a ‘charm trip’ with Ivanka keep tariffs off Apple products again? Stay tuned.


Scammers Edit Google Maps; Logitech Looks to Buy Plantronics; Video Game Spending Breaks Record; Disney Spend-More on Parks than All Movie Divisions Together

Scammers have figured out a new way to separate you from your money, and this one is particularly sneaky. Businessinsider.com reports that Google Maps has let users submit changes and corrections to listings. The hackers change contact info for banks listed via Google Maps, and when customers call what they think is their financial institution, the scammers confirm banking details from the unsuspecting customer and then drain their account! The scam is apparently hottest in India right now, but Google has previously advised that if you need to talk to your bank, get the number off the bank’s website, not from the Maps app!

You may well have or have had a Plantronics Bluetooth earpiece. I’ve had several over the years. Now, cnet.com says Swiss computer accessories giant Logitech has been in discussions about acquiring Santa Cruz, Ca based Plantronics…which was founded by a couple of pilots. The latest as of this morning is that those talks have ended, but it’s been known that the earpiece maker had put itself up for sale. Logitech had apparently offered $2.2 billion before the talks were called off. Plantronics just bought video conferencing equipment maker Polycom for $2 billion in July, so they probably thought the offer was pretty light.

Movies cost a lot to make, but rake in big bucks. Ralph Breaks the Internet pulled down $55.6 million opening weekend. Black Panther is the third highest grossing movie of all time, making $700 million just in the US. Movies pale at the revenue from video games and gaming systems nowadays, though. According to geekwire.com, video game spending hit a new record of $1.5 billion in October, up 75%. The Nintendo Switch and re-release of the NES Classic and a number of hot games raked in the cash. With the holiday quarter still in progress, game and game system makers have to be smiling broadly. 2019 should be big, too…with the remake of Resident Evil 2, Crackdown 3, Dead or Alive 6, and Jump Force all on the way…not to mention Kingdom Hearts 3, which will drop in January.

Disney has dropped a pretty penny to buy Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm, and they make good money on the products. The investments in movie companies pales on what the House of Mouse is pumping into its 6 theme parks around the world, though. Bgr.com reports that Disney is spending or about to spend $24 billion on the parks and new ships for Disney Cruise Line. By comparison, buying Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm only cost Disney $15.4 billion combined! They are finishing up on the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland, and will also complete one at Walt Disney World. The media nets and movies still make more…counting ESPN and ABC, Disney pulled in $6.6 billion for the fiscal year…but that’s down 3%. The parks made $4.5 billion, and that’s up over 100% from 5 years ago!


Galaxy S10-Maybe 6 Cams; Pixel 3 Fatal Camera Bug; Google Patents VR Kicks

Smartphones..even from Samsung and Apple…have reached something of a saturation point. The market isn’t really growing as top line phones have broken the $1000 barrier and all have amazing features. Now, Samsung is really going for the ‘wow’ factor on the Galaxy S10, hoping to bump up their market. Engadget.com reports that the upcoming S10 may be equipped with 6 cameras and have 5G capability. There also may be 4 different versions of Samsung’s flagship phone, including one with a 6.7 inch screen. That would be the one with all the cams…4 rear cams and 2 selfie cams. The other models would range in size from 5.8 to 6.4 inch screens and have anywhere from 3 to 5 cameras. Another ‘wow’ feature that might make it is the ability to wirelessly charge other phones. With more people keeping phones for two to four years, all the eye-popping features may be needed to jump start sales again.

There are some nasty little bugs that show up in software, then there are the really ugly ones that produce a ‘fatal error.’ Apparently, one has surfaced that affects cameras on Google’s Pixel 3 phones. According to 9to5google.com, a lot of people using 3rd party camera apps have gotten a ‘can’t connect to camera’ message. The cams stay disconnected from then on, and so far, Google hasn’t done anything about it besides acknowledging the issue. They are refusing to replace phones with the error, and basically have said developers are ‘working on a fix’ or there ‘might be an update.’ It’s kind of tough to wait it out, when cameras are probably the most used feature on a smartphone. For now…best to steer clear of 3rd party cam apps all together until this bug is squashed. [[Google has now said that this is a known issue and that an update will roll out to fix the problem in the coming weeks.]]

So you want to walk or run through your VR world, but you’d rather not run into the walls in your real world room…what to do? Here comes Google, with a patent that could well do the trick. Arstechnica.com says Google has patented shoes that are akin to motorized roller skates. The kicks let you walk normally while the wheels work to keep you inside the VR safe zone…without running into walls or knocking over the big screen. Although they aren’t omnidirectional…so just work backwards and forwards, they will act to give you a nearly endless virtual world, according to Google. No time frame yet on when these may be out and ready for your VR play.


Skype over Alexa; Apple Cuts iPhone Production Orders; Space-X Approved for 7,000 Com Satellites

Microsoft has enabled Skype to work on Amazon’s Alexa devices. The rollout should be complete this week. Theverge.com reports that Echo-type hardware will be able to handle basic calling, and the Echo Show will include video support for Skype. Users will also be able to call mobile and land lines using SkypeOut, and call their contacts by simply asking Alexa to ‘Call Siri on Skype.’ OK, not really Siri…unless maybe you have a friend with that name, which would be nearly as confusing as having a pal named Alexa.

Apple has pared back production orders for the iPhone Xs, Xs Max, and XR, due to ‘lower than expected demand,’ according to a Wall Street Journal report picked up by macrumors.com. Somewhat surprisingly, the biggest cuts are for the XR, which has been whacked by a third of the original 70 million units originally scheduled. Some suppliers are calling the handsets a flop, but with Apple reporting record breaking revenue of $61.5 billion on iPhones during the launch quarter, that’s a stretch. Since Apple is going to quit reporting unit numbers for iPhone sales going forward it will make it even harder to track sales…but competitor Samsung hasn’t reported unit numbers in some time.

SpaceX has gotten FCC approval to launch over 7,000 satellites. Cnet.com says they will be in very low earth orbit, and will give the company the ability to provide global satellite broadband service. The FCC has also signed off on requests from Kepler Communications, Telesat Canada, and LeoSat MA to offer broadband in the US by satellite.


Jag Claims Tech Will Greenlight Your Commute; Lyft Offering Automatic Tips & Driver Ratings; Boeing Division-Solar Powered Drone

A lot of people are excited about self-driving tech, and some are skeptical of it ever becoming commonplace. Now, Jaguar-Land Rover may have something that will win skeptics over to assisted or autonomous driving…all green lights! Cnet.com reports that Jag is saying their V2X tech includes something called Green Light Optimal Speed Advisory, and it’s capable of suggesting a speed for the driver. If the driver maintains the speed, they should be able to hit a series of green lights without stopping. The system is being test run in London right now…interestingly, the home of the first ever traffic lights. Hitting a series of green lights is not necessarily new…back in the day, Dad figured out if you drove either 18 or 38, you could hit every green light on the Main Street in our town between 1st Street and 17th Street! You can guess which speed he generally took!

Lyft is doing a limited launch to test out default tipping and mid-ride tipping. According to engadget.com, only select customers will see this at first, but it should be widely available in 2019 if all goes well. Also, Lyft is testing out a default on driver rating. Starting in December, if you don’t leave a rating, the default will be a 5-star rating. Lyft says a lot of people don’t bother with ratings if the ride went well. If you do ding the driver, the app will ask you to justify it. It nullifies ratings where circumstances were out of the driver’s control…like bad traffic.

Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences says its high altitude, long endurance Odysseus solar drone will take its maiden flight next spring. Geekwire.com says that first flight will happen next April 23rd in Puerto Rico. The wide-winged drone can be deployed at a fraction the cost of a satellite, and can spend far more time airborne than a conventional drone…in fact, for months! Right now, climate and atmospheric research are the first claimed applications. (Nope…no spying…we’d never use science for cover for that.)


Netflix Tests Cheaper Mobile-Only Plan; Uber Launches Loyalty Program; Benioff Says Facebook = Cigarettes

Netflix is testing out a cheaper mobile only plan in Malaysia. Engadget.com says the plan is priced at $4 a month, and limits viewing to either a phone or tablet. Also, only SD viewing is available. In Malaysia, the next cheapest plan is around $8. The mobile only plan is expected to spread around Asia first to ‘a few countries.’ Netflix is currently developing more than 100 films and TV shows around Asia as well.

Nothing says someone is getting into your business, like giving an incentive to customers NOT to check you against your competitor! Apparently, Uber’s new loyalty program does just that. Techcrunch.com reports that Uber Rewards, which launches today in 9 cities, incentivizes you not to check Lyft or other local competitors. With Rewards, riders earn points for all the money they spend on Uber and Uber Eats. There are $5 credits, upgrades to nicer cars, access to premium support, and even flexible cancellations that waive the fee if a ride is rebooked within 15 minutes. The initial launch is in Miami, Denver, Tampa, New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego, or anywhere in New Jersey…with the rest of the country to follow in the next few months.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, has hit Facebook again…this time saying they are the new cigarettes. The attack came in an interview with Kara Swisher on NBC News, according to business insider.com. Benioff called for tighter regulation of the social network, saying: “The government needs to step in, the government needs to really regulate what’s happening.” He said this was particularly urgent because Facebook targets children as users. Did you think about nodding your head in agreement? I recall a few years ago, a woman friend asked me “How much of a time suck is Facebook?” Her hubby…who was in sales, was trying to get her into it. I said that it was pretty much a black hole for your time…and that hasn’t changed. The lady made an account to keep peace in the family, but never uses it!