Facebook- No Back Door for Government; 90% Tech Growth-Handful of Markets; Mercedes Self Drivers on San Jose Streets; Apple Has Huge Wearables Lead

Facebook gets a lot of criticism pretty continuously…almost all of it well-deserved…over their numerous privacy violations and refusal to do more to keep user data secure. That said, they are actually ‘doing the right thing’ in at least one case. Bgr.com reports that in response to an open letter from world leaders…including US Attorney General Bill Barr…demanding that the social net weaken its encryption protocols so that governments can more easily pry into what users are doing across the platform, Facebook has essentially said ‘absolutely not—we won’t do it.’ No back door for you, governments!

This is not the first time the US, UK, and Australia have demanded a backdoor into Facebook. “Preserving the prominence of American values online requires strong protections for privacy and security, including strong encryption,” reads the opening statement from Jay Sullivan, Messenger’s director of product management for privacy and integrity, who was to testify at a Senate hearing on Tuesday. They will continue to have end-to-end encryption in their messaging apps as well as slamming the door on the idea of a back door in the main Facebook app. Give it up for Facebook for, at least this time, doing the right thing.

According to a report from Brookings Institution, 90% of high-tech job growth has happened in just 5 metro areas: Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Jose, Seattle, and San Diego. Brookings measured what they term the ‘innovation sector’ jobs, which they define as ‘employment in the top science, technology, engineering, and math industries that include extensive research and development spending.’ Meanwhile, 343 metro areas lost a share of these jobs in that same period. Not to quibble, but I’m going to quibble. San Jose IS part of the San Francisco Bay Area, as measured by everyone…so it’s actually just FOUR metro areas. Even in the radio and TV ratings measurement businesses, San Jose is an ‘embedded market,’ and part of the greater San Francisco Bay Area metro counties.

At any rate, the locales draw educated people and investment money from other places. Some 40% of adults have Bachelor’s degrees in these metro areas, compared to only 26% in the bottom three quartiles. Brookings’ report notes that ‘being an innovation city does have costs: These include worsening traffic, ballooning housing prices, and wage growth so high that smaller firms can’t compete. In theory, these spiraling costs should send jobs to cheaper areas, but the report notes that the inflection point is very high, and that when a company does move, its jobs don’t necessarily stay within the US.’ The report points out that with traditional manufacturing and in natural resources development, location was dictated by geography…development took place along rivers, bays, highways, and in forests. This just doesn’t apply in the tech economy. Brookings doesn’t see any movement to other areas without intensive government investment…direct funding, tax preference, and workforce development. Things that, to date, haven’t happened.

A new self-driving taxi service is hitting the pavement in San Jose. Autonomous Mercedes-Benz S Class cars, tricked out by Mercedes and long time partner Bosch. (Mercedes and Bosch partnered on disc brakes decades ago for aircraft and cars.) Theverge.com says the S-Class Mercedes self drivers will carry people between West San Jose and the downtown area. They will run on a fixed route along San Carlos Street and Stevens Creek Boulevard. As is the case in all self driving cars in California that carry passengers, there will be a safety driver in the drivers seat, ready to take over. Way has been operating in a similar fashion in Phoenix, and Lyft in Las Vegas. There are now 65—65!— companies licensed in California to test self driving cars on public roads.

Apple continues to dominate the wearables market with Watch and Air Pods doing the heavy lifting for them. Global wearables shipments hit 84.5 million units in Q3 of this year, with Apple leading by a large margin, according to IDC, as cited in 9to5mac.com. Apple scooped up 29.5 million of those 84.5 million units, giving them a 35% market share…and they are up 200% over 3rd quarter of 2018. Xiaomi is in 2nd pale with 12.5 million units, then Samsung for third with 8.3 million.

Pixel 4- Auto Robocall Screening, More; 2020 iPhones-Bigger Batteries & Interest Free AppleCard Installments; Mac Pro Orders Imminent; Snapchat Essentially Getting Deep Fake Editing Ability

Pixel 4 is getting a software update with some cool features. Venturebeat.com reports that US Pixel 4’s will get a call screen feature that automatically declines calls from unknown parties and filters out suspected robocallers. The handsets will also have improved video calling on Duo, and an upgraded Google Assistant will hit more Pixel phones. Photos snapped on Pixels will now be convertible to a portrait by blurring the background after the fact. Google is calling the update and ones coming ‘Feature Drops,’ and promises bigger updates with ‘more helpful and fun features.’ They expect updates on mainly a monthly basis.

The iPhone models for 2020 will have a customized battery protection module that is smaller and thinner. According to macrumors.com, that means they will have slightly bigger batteries inside for more use time. Also, Apple has now confirmed something teased by Tim Cook in October….Apple Card will be adding the ability to take advantage of 0% financing for iPhone purchases. On top of that, you will still get the 3% cash back on the iPhone purchase! This will have no effect on your other Apple Card purchases, which, of course, will still get charged interest if you don’t pay them off monthly. So far, Apple hasn’t indicated whether the 0% installments will be extended to other Apple products like Macs, iPads, or accessories.

Apple has announced that orders will be open on the new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR starting tomorrow, December 10th. Be ready for your wallet to cry huge tears…the Pro starts at $5999, and the XDR display at $4999. This combination of muscular bad boys will set you back a minimum of $10,998! In other words, you had better be ready to be a pro user or be able to make real money with your new Mac Pro…or else have a nice trust fund of pile of cash from cashing out your successful startup!

Snapchat is about to launch a big (and potentially controversial) feature. Months ago, there was quite a flap about some software that could add a face (yours, a movie star, whatever) to a video, creating what was called a ‘deep fake.’ This was particularly upsetting to actresses, who found a quick proliferation of porn videos preporting to feature them. The software was quickly taken down most everywhere. Now, techcrunch.com says Snapchat is launching Cameos. They are basically an alternative to Apple’s Bitmoji…for quickly conveying reaction, emotions, etc. You can paste your face or others into a video you can share. While it only is live in a few countries in test mode, and Snap claims it’s only for GIFs, it could be fairly quickly corrupted back into deep fakes again…something that worries politicians (who fear fake ads) in addition to the above noted Hollywood actresses. Stay tuned…and look for yourself in a video doing something you’ve never done before soon…this horse may have really left the barn now.

iPhone 11 Pro Location Data Always ON; Qualcomm New In-Display Ultrasonic Fingerprint Reader; Facebook Liam Chatbot- Helps Employees Talk to Families; Formula E Becomes World Championship

Apple has made much about how they protect your data better than others. According to businessinsider.com, that claim has a newly discovered blemish. Security expert Brian Krebs has found that the iPhone 11 Pro periodically collects location data even when individual apps and services are told not to. Location services can still be totally killed by switching the button in your iPhone’s security settings. Nonetheless, with location services on, and the individual apps’ location services ON, there will still be some data collection on the iPhones.

Qualcomm has unveiled its gen 2 version of the ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor. Theverge.com reports that there is a new twist to increase security…the new version can detect 2 fingerprints at once for extra secure authentication. The so-called 3D Sonic Sensor has improved reliability and security over existing optical sensors. It also has a vastly larger area, which should make it a lot easier to use. It should even work through a screen protector. A rumor has Apple looking into adding the tech to the new iPhones next year.

Facebook has been working behind the scenes to equip employees with a way to answer questions from family and friends about the social network’s various scandals over the holidays. Enter Liam….a chatbot. Mashable.com says that the bot will give employees a way to answer tough questions while keeping things in line with company policies. PR isn’t the only thing the bot can help with…it has also been designed to help handle basic tech support questions that Facebook employees might get over the holidays from family and friends (sound familiar? I just helped one get an edited document from the desktop to a thumb drive yesterday. Go ahead and laugh…there are perfectly smart people out there who just don’t have the tech gene. The hapless user has an advanced degree!)

This is a true sea change from the days that have existed since long before I hit the pavement…the days of gasoline alley. According to engadget.com, the FIA has elevated Formula E, the electric race car league, to World Championship status starting in the 2020-21 season. Up to now, E-racers have played second fiddle to Formula 1. From now on, the overall Formula E winner will be able to claim to be a World Champion. This has been moved forward lately with the participation of legendary racing marques Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. While Formula E may not eclipse the popularity of Formula 1, it will now compete at a whole new level.

Class Action Over MacBook Keys Continues; AWS Launches Quantum Computing ‘Bracket; Netflix Tests New Menu, Shuffle Button; FBI Confirms- FaceApp Counterintelligence Risk

Apple just came out with its ‘new’ keyboard tech (pretty well a rehash of the previous setup) on the new MacBook Pro 16 inch model. It replaced the infamous ‘butterfly keyboard,’ which has given some people fits, and spawned a class action lawsuit. (For the record, I am typing this on a butterfly keyboard, and my prior laptop also had it….and I haven’t had issues…hope this doesn’t jinx me!) According to engadget.com, Federal Judge Edward Davila has thrown out Apple’s attempt to dismiss the suit underpinning the class action. The suit accuses the company of not only hiding the fragility of MacBook butterfly keyboards, but of failing to provide an ‘effective fix’ or full compensation for customers who paid for repairs. The suit further alleges that Apple violated multiple states’ consumer protection laws. The butterfly keyboard rolled out with the original 12 inch MacBook in 2015 and is on MacBook Pros from 2016 on. For their part, Apple has launched repair programs, which may mitigate their exposure. It will likely take several years before we have an outcome as this winds through the court system.

Amazon has announced ‘Braket,’ its quantum computing service. Techcrunch.com reports that Google, Microsoft, and IBM have been in the news with quantum computing for a while now, nothing had been heard out of AWS…until yesterday. Amazon will not be building its own quantum computer, however. It is partnering with D-Wave, IonQ, and Rigetti, and making the system available through its cloud. Amazon also announced launch of its AWS Center for Quantum Computing and AWS Quantum Solutions Lab. Quantum computing may make your brain hurt….trying to understand it does mine…but it could revolutionize the world in ways we haven’t even imagined yet, so give the wizards some time to play in the cloud with it, and we’ll see what comes out.

Netflix is testing out a new menu that finally includes a shuffle button for TV shows. 9to5google.com says Android Police first uncovered the new layout. It features a 3 button menu for each piece of content on the home screen. The buttons replace the current information button. Tapping brings up options for play, info/episodes, sharing, rating, and seeing similar content. There is also a ‘remove from row’ option so you can delete sites from Netflix’s ‘Continue Watching’ row. A lot of people have asked for the shuffle button….it will allow you to select random episodes of your favorite TV series. No word on when the feature will go live to everyone yet.

Last summer, a lot of people were playing with ‘FaceApp, a Russian app that let you see yourself as older, with glasses, and other effects. At the time, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer thought it a security risk, and asked the FBI. Now, according to 9to5mac.com, the Bureau has responded, and said yes, they think it and other Russian developed apps are ‘potential counterintelligence threats.’ The FaceApp people claimed that no user data was transferred to Russia, where their R&D team was. This, of course, could be true…the data could have been uploaded to servers located elsewhere and accessed from Russia. The FBI went on to say intelligence services in Russia “maintain robust cyber-exploitation capabilities.” The Russian Federal Security Service can also “access all communications and servers on Russian networks without making a request to ISPs.” They, as well as Minority Leader Schumer, warn people to stay away from Russian made apps.

Facebook Tool Transfers Pics to Google; Apple Will Have Mini-LEDs in 12.9” iPad and 16” MacBook Pro; Online Black Friday Sales 40% mobile; Tesla-Lasers to Clear Windshields

They will probably never willingly release a tool to migrate your friends list and their contact info elsewhere, but Facebook has now released a tool that lets you offload media. According to 9to5google.com, it first works with Google Photos. It’s located in ‘Your Facebook Information’ in the settings section. Right now, it’s available in Ireland, but will be worldwide by the first half of 2020. Data will be encrypted during transfer, and you will need to re-enter your password to use the feature.

Apple has been working on mini-LED tech for years. The tech offers a rich wide color selection, high contrast ratios, and localized dimming. Another plus-mini LED is also believed to result in thinner panels that are more power efficient, and they do not suffer from burn-in like OLED. Ming-Chi Kuo, the noted Apple analyst, is quoted in 9to5mac.com as saying that Apple will bow its first 2 products using the tech late next year. they will be a 12.9 inch iPad and a 16 inch MacBook Pro. Kuo also projects that Apple will release 4-6 products using mini-LED over the next 2 to 3 years.

Like to shop instead of just wasting time standing in line for coffee or food? Apparently a lot of people feel that way, too. Engadget.com says 39% of Black Friday purchases were made using smartphones. The data comes via Adobe. Shoppers blew $2.9 billion with their phones last Friday…up from $2.1 billion last year. Black Friday total internet sales were $7.4 billion this year, up from $6.2 the previous year. The average purchase was $168.

Let the memes fly….’Teslas with fricken laser beams!’ Shades of Dr. Evil and his sharks! Electrek.co reports that Tesla has a patent to use lasers to automatically clean debris from windshields. The idea isn’t to use them to completely replace windshield wipers..it’s to clear the area used by Autopilot cams around the car. Tesla also intends to use the system to automatically clean solar panels on roofs. Electrek notes ‘don’t see how anything can go wrong by putting lasers on self-driving robots.’