Feds Investigating Facebook; Uber After Funds for Self-Drive Unit; HP Laptop Battery Recall; Tumblr Traffic Whacked After Porn Ban

Federal prosecutors are digging into the data deals Facebook arranged with tech companies. Engadget.com reports that subpoenas went out to get records from 2 or more ‘prominent makers of smartphones.’ Facebook had deals with the likes of Apple, Microsoft, and Sony. Facebook has acknowledged the probe, and says says they are ‘cooperating with investigators’ and was taking the probes ‘seriously.’ Most of these deals ended a while back, but the probe may be why Mark Zuckerberg pledged recently to make it a ‘privacy-focused’ social network.

Uber is in late stage talks to pick up a billion dollars for their self-driving car group. Businessinsider.com says the funding would primarily come from Softbank, which has already kicked in $1.25 billion…giving it 15% of the ride hailing company. Toyota may also be involved. This deal would bring the valuation of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group at $5-10 billion dollars.

HP is now recalling 78,500 laptop batteries due to possible fire and burn hazards. According to zdnet.com, there have been 8 new reports of issues including overheating and melting. In January, they had recalled 50,000, and this batch is in addition to those. HP has set up a website so you can check. It affects models sold between April 2015 and 2018. Many of the batteries are non-removable and the laptops will need to be taken in for a free replacement.

After banning porn and adult content in December, Tumblr took a 17% hit in views…100 million sets of eyeballs in 30 days! The nextweb.com says SimilarWeb did the analytics. The platform took the action after temporarily getting kicked off Apple’s App Store over child porn. Unfortunately, Tumblr was also a refuge for folks in the LGBTQ community and others, who have bailed to find other platforms where they can feel safe and like they belong.

Spotify Complains To EU About Apple App Store; Verizon 5G Launches in April, Chrome Extension to Filter Toxic Comments; LG Unicorn Ice Cream Maker

Spotify has filed a complaint against Apple with the EU over ‘Unfair’ App Store practices. According to macrumors.com, Spotify claims the store’s rules ‘purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience, and slams Apple’s ‘acting as both a player and a referee to deliberately disadvantage other app developers.’ They particularly hit Apple for the 30% commission…which Spotify frames as a tax…on App Store purchase. Spotify says this forces them to charge $12.99 a month, while Apple Music can be priced at $9.99 a month. Considering that there are over a billion iOS devices, the revenue gap is substantial. Spotify has launched a ‘Time to Play Fair’ website and video to educate consumers about its complaint.

Verizon has announced that they will roll out 5G in two cities April 11th. Theverge.com reports that the first two cities to get the service will be Chicago and Minneapolis. It will run an extra $10 a month on top of Verizon’s 3 existing unlimited plans. That means if you had the lowest price $85 plan, it will be $95 with 5G. Verizon says they will not be doing any throttling…which is reasonable to believe, since very few phones can actually use 5G right now. T-Mobile has claimed they won’t be raising prices for 5G when they roll theirs out later this year. Initial concentration in the cities will be in the Loop, Gold Coast, River North, and Old Town areas of Chicago. Minneapolis will also focus 5G…starting with Downtown East, Downtown West, and Elliot Park.

A Chrome extension has been announced by Alphabet’s Jigsaw that helps you control what comments you see on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, and Disqus. According to cnet.com, Tune is described as a sort of volume control for toxic comments. Human moderators just become overwhelmed, and the tool was originally built as ‘Perspective’ to help them keep comments under control…now, it will be available to users. You can toggle how many comments you want to see…from zero in ’Zen Mode’, to viewing everything online with no filter. It also allows you to adjust by site. You could see all on Facebook, but screen by terms on Reddit…maybe to screen out threats, sexually explicit attacks, and insults. ‘Filter Mix’ is still very experimental, according to Google, and still produces a lot of false positives. Google hopes the Chrome tool will help tamp down trolls and harassment campaigns. Note that it only blocks your seeing the comments…so the nastiness does continue for the rest of the net that doesn’t have Tune installed and set up!

LG showed off a total unicorn at SXSW, but you will want one anyway. Engadget.com reports it’s called SnowWhite, and it’s like a Keurig for ice cream! The Snow has a pod-based system that lets you choose the base and flavor for various frozen desserts. Besides ice cream, it could make gelato, granita, sorbet, yogurt, and more…all in 2 to 5 minutes! WANT!

Apple- ‘Showtime’ March 25th; Amazon Lets 3rd Parties Sell For Less Elsewhere; PayPal-Instant US Bank Transfers; Debit Card with Fingerprint Sensor

Apple will hold an event March 25th that is widely expected to be the rollout of their rumored TV streaming and Apple News services. Theverge.com reports that Apple may also bow the updated AirPods, and freshened entry level iPad, as well as the oft-delayed AirPower wireless charging pad that can charge your phone, Watch, and AirPods at the same time. Interestingly, Apple used ‘It’s show time’ once before…in 2006 when they added movies to iTunes and unveiled Apple TV (which was dubbed iTV at the time.)

Amazon has dropped its policy of banning 3rd party merchants fro selling products for less on other sites. According to geekwire.com, the change went into effect yesterday. Amazon critics had called the ‘price parity provisions’ a violation of antitrust laws. In December, Senator Richard Blumenthal had asked the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission to investigate the policy.

PayPal has launched an Instant Transfer option in the US that over money directly to your bank account, not just your debit card. It’s much like businesses have had available for some time. Engadget.com says it will work through JPMorgan Chase’s access to The Clearing House, a platform major banks use for faster payment networks. As yet, it’s not available overseas. PayPal is touting it as a nice flexibility option for gig economy and freelance workers. You will have to pay a 1% fee, however.

It’s great to use contactless payments…like with Apple Pay and Google…but what if you just want to drag out some cash? You have to whip out the debit card and poke in the PIN number…and there have been numerous reports of hacking ATM machines, with cams that can read your PIN. Now, NatWest is trialing a debit card in Britain with a fingerprint sensor built in. Bgr.com reports that the cards still use NFC tech, but because they can verify with a fingerprint, they don’t have a payment limit. The only somewhat limiting feature is that you have to go in to a bank branch to set it up. Your actual print is stored on the card, so can’t be hacked in the bank database. It would still be possible to spoof your print, though, if bad guys get hold of your card. If the trial goes well, it may be expanded to Visa and Mastercard for pilot programs.

Apple AR Headset-Production This Year; ‘Cheap’ iPad Keeps Phone Jack & Touch ID; Google Smart Game Controller; Tesla-Raising Prices & Keeping Stores Open; Facial Recognition at Airports

Apple AR may be nearly upon us. 9to5mac.com reports that the company may be putting their AR headset into production later this year. Ming-Chi Kuo, the noted analyst, says it will be in mass production by 4th quarter this year or 2nd quarter of 2020 at the latest. It’s expected to be much lighter and more comfortable than most of those out, but would be dependent on an iPhone much the way the Apple Watch is.

Also, a report has the $329 iPad keeping Touch ID and the venerable headphone jack. The screen size will increase to 10 inches from 9.7 by reducing the bezel size. The internals will be beefed up with the newer processor.

A recent filing has revealed a smart controller that Google patented for gaming in 2014. According to 9to5google.com, the device would allow seamless activation of games on a host device by the controller. The controller could even let users select using a tablet, PC, or smart TV. It could connect over USB, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi, and would have a small screen. The handheld gadget would have onboard memory for the user’s account info, brightness and volume preferences, and other settings…and it would use a specific key combination to act as the password. In the past months, Google demoed Stream on a Mac, Windows, and Linux over a chrome browser. The controller might be used for gaming on a smart TV.

Tesla has done a quick about-face, and will keep more of its stores open. In order to do this, theverge.com says they will raise prices on all vehicles except the $35,000 model 3 on March 18th. The increase will be 3%. Tesla will still not reopen about 10% of the stores, as they had planned to close those anyway. Ordering will still take place 100% online, with salespeople at the stores showing customers how to order the cars on their phones. They will also have a small pool of cars available for customers who want to buy one immediately.

Buzzfeednews.com has seen documents that indicate that the government plans to use Facial Recognition on ALL international passengers at the top 20 US airports by 2021! The biometric scanning system would be applied to passengers on some 16,300 flights per week. This is in spite of the fact that the ACLU reported last summer that Amazon’s facial recognition tech falsely matched 28 members of Congress with arrest mug shots. The false matches were disproportionately people of color. Buckle up!

Galaxy S10 Sales Estimate Raised; Facebook Lost US Users; Tesla-Faster Superchargers Coming; Amazon Closes Pop-Up Stores

Ming-Chi Kuo, well-known analyst with a stellar track record for being accurate, has upped his forecast of Samsung Galaxy S10 shipments by 10% due to better than expected pre-order demand. According to macrumors.com, Kuo thinks the market had been a bit overly bearish about high end smart phone growth, and he also sees the Samsung products benefiting from the spec differentiation from iPhone models….with features like the in-screen ultrasonic fingerprint display, triple lens rear camera, and bilateral wireless charging. The analyst also noted there is better than expected demand in China. Apple is widely expected to expand to 3 cameras on the back of the upcoming iPhones, but for now, Samsung will have a significant leg up in sales. Pre-orders have continued for the S10 models, and the launch is later this week.

Bad news for Facebook…US users are down 15 million…better news…most switched over to Facebook-owned Instagram. (Between 9-16%.) 9to5mac.com reports that the drop occurred between 2017 and 2019. The numbers were crunched by Edison Research. They also determined that nearly 80% of the US population uses social media. Edison found that only a trace have left social media entirely…most have just switched platforms.

Tesla has announced that they have developed a new, faster Supercharger. Right now the chargers top out at 120Kw. Arstchnica.com says there are almost 13,000 of them. Since Tesla started their network, there have been others with 350Kw and 500Kw fast chargers. Tesla will be rolling out the V3 Superchager by the end of the year. They say it will support 250Kw per car, and top out at 1Mw. Tesla says the new units will charge a Model 3 Long Range (operating at peak efficiency) to 75 miles of charge in 5 minutes, and charge at rates of up to 1,000 miles per hour. Tesla is going to update software to prewarm batteries as they approach a Supercharger, which will reduce average charging time by 25%. This is similar to what they do with vehicles that have Ludicrous mode. Model 3’s are already able to juice up with the faster Superchargers. Model S and X owners will get software updates later this year that will let them benefit from the upgrade.

Amazon has decided to close all 87 of its pop-up stores. According to businessinsider.com, the company will instead focus on expanding Amazon Books and Amazon 4-Star, it’s other brick and mortar offerings…which they say ‘have a more comprehensive customer experience and broader selection.’ The pop-up stores, which have been in place about 5 years, focused primarily on gadgets like the Echo and fire TV. Amazon says they will find opportunities for the employees of the pop-ups to transfer within Amazon.

More Folders from Samsung Soon; iPhone Cuts Prices in China; Target’s Digital Sales Explode; Chinese Hackers Hit Colleges for Mil Tech

Now that Samsung has introduced the Galaxy Fold, and Huawei has put out the Mate X, you probably thought everyone else would just follow suit and copy, right? Well now, Samsung is working on TWO additional folding phones! One folds vertically like a clamshell…top to bottom. The other folds away like the Mate X. According to engadget.com, Samsung is also thinking of offering free screen replacements to account for a visible crease that appears on the Fold after it has been folder some 10,000 times. Durability will be an issue for a gadget people have to drop over $1900 for! The wave of folding phones is thought by some to be a way to keep up excitement and sales as smartphones level off in sales.

Apple continues to suffer from weak sales in China. It caused their first guidance miss in 16 years. Although they say market conditions are improving, 9to5mac.com reports that major Apple Chinese resellers have cut the price on iPhone XR and XS Max, and are running promotional deals on the XS. The promo cuts the price on the XS by around $150, and the discount on the Max is nearly $300. XR sales in China have been rising at a reasonable pace, but the XS and XS Max sales have been flat. Apple had previously said they were adjusting prices to account for currency fluctuations.

Target’s digital sales grew ten times faster than in-store sales in 2018. Target has been focusing on fending off Amazon, and posted the biggest rise in comparable sales in 13 years, according to geekwire.com. The company has turned some of its biggest stores into mini-warehouses for shipping and pickup of online orders, and has also opened smaller neighborhood stores. Even with the dramatic online growth, Target’s online sales still only account for 7% of total sales…but that’s up from 5.5% in 2017. In the 4th quarter of 2018, they passed 10% online for the first time.

Chinese hackers have apparently been working overtime to break into US universities in search of info they can steal for military use. Zdnet.com says that University of Hawaii, MIT, and University of Washington have been targets, and that the Chinese have been trying to crack some 27 universities worldwide. The main thrust is maritime tech for military purposes. The Chinese have mainly used phishing attacks to gain entry, and are emanating from servers known as Mudcarp, Leviathan, APT40, and Temp.Periscope. The hacks are believed to be aimed at supporting China’s naval modernization effort.

Instant Pot Merges with Pyrex Maker; Apple Waiting on Folding Glass for Folder Phone; Mercedes Bows Electric Van; Uber Rewards Now Live Across US

It’s kind of like plain or peanut….everyone either has an instant pot or air fryer. On the instant pot front, Corelle Brands, which has Corning Ware and Pyrex, is planning to merge with Instant Brands, the maker of Instant Pot. Engadget.com reports that this could expand the product development pipeline. If the deal goes through, Instant Brands will continue to work out of its home in Ottawa, Canada. Corelle’s CEO will run the overall company. They look for the deal to be wrapped up by 2nd quarter.

We just reported that Samsung Display has sent folding screen samples to Apple. Apple has had folder patents for several years, but may still be a holdout. According to macrumors.com, Samsung protects the folding OLED screen with plastic, which can scratch, crease, and crinkle more easily. Apple is apparently holding out for Corning to make a folding glass panel. Corning says the trick is to not only make the panel bendable, but to also be able to withstand drops. Corning already was Willow Glass, which can be rolled like a sheet of paper…BUT…to make it, the panel has to be dipped in a molten salt solution, which tends to corrode transistors that live in a smartphone display. Still, they think they will have a screen cover ready in the next couple years. Apple has kicked in $200 million out of its billion dollar Advanced Manufacturing Fund towards making it happen.

Mercedes has revealed an EQV electric van at the Geneva auto show. Arstechnica.com says the van will haul between 6 and 8 people, and has a range of 249 miles. It will be able to be configured as a daily driver for a family or a people mover that can serve as a shuttle van. It is expected to go into volume production sometime in 2020.

Uber Rewards, the loyalty program the ride share company launched in 9 cities last Fall has now gone live across the country. 9to5mac.com reports that it gives credit for every dollar spent on Uber and Uber Eats…with more points offered for Uber Black. The points tally up to between 1% and 3% of what you spend. They are credited to your cash balance. Gold membership, at 500 points, gives you flexible cancellations. At 2500 points, you’re Platinum, and gain price protection on regular rides. For 7500 points, it’s Diamond, and you get ‘the best drivers and complimentary surprise upgrades.’ The company is retroactively crediting users for what they have spent the last 6 months.