Samsung Bug; Amazon Anti-HAck Drone; HTC Cuts; Big Bank Blockchain Success

Here’s a creepy new development for some Samsung phone owners. Apparently, Samsung Messaging is randomly sending your camera roll photos to your contacts without permission. According to theverge.com, it is on the S9 and S9+ phones at the least…and appears to be when you use MMS messaging or send a message with a link. Samsung says they are aware of the issue and are looking into it. If you have the problem, Samsung says to call 1-800-SAMSUNG and let them know. The problem was first noticed on T-Mobile, but the carrier says it’s not their issue. Meanwhile, if you have a Samsung phone, better delete those racy selfies and private pictures until Samsung issues a fix!

Amazon just got a patent approved that they filed 2 years ago for “Hostile takeover avoidance of unmanned vehicles”. It’s aimed at making their future drones as hack-proof as possible. Amazon has been experimenting with having drones deliver people’s goods within an hour, so this is one step closer to that goal. The company’s other drone-related patents include self-destruction when a failure is detected and drones that can respond to gestures and voice commands. Mashable.com says Amazon is seeking to avoid hackers who might steal the drones and their payloads, crash them, or otherwise cause disruption to the operation of drones on their way to deliver your order.

The smartphone world is dominated by Samsung, Apple, and Huewei. Now, maker HTC is cutting a quarter of its workforce worldwide…mainly at its manufacturing plant in Taiwan. Reuters.com reports that HTC once sold 10% of smartphones worldwide, but that’s been in decline for some time. Sales were down 48% from year to year in March. The company is also consolodating its smartphone and virtual reality divisions. Last year, HTC shifted 2,000 handset engineers to Google in an 1.1 billion dollar deal. Alphabet’s Google has been trying to get a foothold in the handset market with it’s Pixel line of phones.

It was confirmed today that the first cross-border, commercial transactions have been conducted on the we.trade blockchain platform – an initiative established by a group of financial giants, including Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and Rabobank. These aren’t your average bank-funded, cross-border remittances transactions powered by the blockchain, though. This particular test was a sustained cross-country, multi-bank, interoperability remittance fest. Thenextweb.com reports that over a whole business week, 10 companies conducted trades on the we.trade platform, making use of four different banks, in 11 European countries. The successful tests are a major win for the IBM Blockchain Platform, which powers we.trade.

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Tesla Model 3 Orders; Facebook-Not Listening; Google Gaming; CIMON Robot to ISS

If you have a reservation and deposit on a Tesla Model 3, you’re in luck….you can start spec’ing out your future car. On the occasion of Elon Musk’s 47th birthday, techcrunch.com says you can now log on to the Tesla website and start configuring your car with the online design studio. For now, only the two higher cost Model 3s are available to be configured, and they aren’t giving an estimated delivery time for some models, but if you pick the dual motor performance version…the most expensive one…Tesla says you should have it in two to four months. For advance order holders that plunked down $1000 to get in line, it will be nice to at least spec out their car.

There was a flurry of reports yesterday that a patent showed that Facebook might be getting ready to switch on your phone’s mic when your TV was on and secretly record you and what you are watching…to better serve you ads. Theverge.com has pointed out that a number of sources saw the title and what’s called the ‘abstract’ of a patent, and got this idea…without actually reading the claims…which are the actual subject matter of the patent.  It’s really a system that receives a user ID and an audio fingerprint, matches that audio fingerprint to some content, sees if that content was played for a certain duration, and then checks a counter to see if that content has been played a specific number of times. No microphone use at all. With all they already know about all of us, they could practically write a conversation in our living room, IMHO!

Earlier this year, there was a rumor that Google might be getting into gaming. Now, further reporting from 9to5google.com indicates that it’s happening. The project apparently involves a streaming platform to offer games from the cloud without presumably having to download large files in the tens of gigabytes, as well as hardware. In other words, you could open a tab on your browser and play a game. Google has been in talks with some major game studios about content. They have also hired some top game developers and marketers lately. Here’s a Google-esque wrinkle they are considering…if you hit a tough level or boss, you could hit a key to activate an overlay on your screen that cues up a YouTube walkthrough of the game you’re playing.

The International Space Station is getting a new crew member. On the SpaceX supply ship that blasted off this morning is a round robot with a flat side for a face dubbed CIMON…for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion. Engadget.com says it can speak, respond to spoken commands using AI, and fly…well, obviously fly…there’s no gravity on the ISS! The helpful robot can display repair instructions on a screen with just a voice command, so astronauts can keep both hands free for doing the repair. It will also be able to display procedures for experiments, and be something of a floating database. The ‘brains’ of the little robot are made by IBM, and the body and flight mechanism are built by Airbus.


Facebook Keyword Snooze; Apple Content Bundle; Google Duplex; Amazon Delivery Entrepreneurs

Facebook is trying out a useful feature to add to their 30 day snooze feature. Instead of snoozing accounts that annoy you, you can snooze by keyword to fight spoilers for sports events, movies, and even triggers…like the names of politicians you may be fed up with seeing posts about. The test drive of this feature is rolling out this week to a small number of users, who will be able to make such things go away for 30 days in their news feeds and groups. Techcrunch.com reports you go to a post in your feed with the subject, then hit the dropdown and look for the word you want to snooze…say for example ‘World Cup.’ Facebook says requests for the feature kept coming up in interviews with users, so they’re giving it a test run.

Apple is reported to be working on a big bundle of services including original TV content, Apple Music, and news. Macrumors.com says Apple has ordered multiple original shows, so won’t continue to offer all of them for free like Carpool Karaoke on Apple Music. The news and digital magazines from Texture will also be included in the service along with Apple Music…all for one price. Apple will continue to offer all of the services a la carte, too. The original TV series are expected to roll out next March, and it’s likely the bundled service will debut at that time, too. Pricing is apparently still up in the air, but top tier Netflix is about $14, so a good guess would be something like $25 a month for the 4 bundled services. 

Yesterday, Google gave some journalists the chance to demo their Duplex intelligent assistant. The AI with the human-like voice and delivery had been debuted earlier with a call to make a hair appointment at a beauty shop. According to theverge.com, this demo had reporters (actually at a restaurant in Mountain View) call a restaurant and try to book a reservation. Google says they will be expanding tests for the AI system in coming weeks with a group of ‘trusted tester users.’ The larger test will be with businesses Google has already partnered with. The test calls are limited to holiday hours, booking a restaurant reservation, and hair appointments, the only 3 domains Duplex has been trained for so far. As a backup, Google does have a bank of human operators standing by for when Duplex inevitably goes sideways.

Amazon has rolled out…in home town Seattle at first…a new delivery program, staffed by entrepreneurs decked out in Prime branded vans and uniforms. Geekwire.com notes that Amazon has already been using this type of ‘last mile’ service to supplement the post office, UPS, and FedEx, but those have been plain white vans and only in some cases, an Amazon branded safety vest. This new program lets entrepreneurs own a delivery fleet of up to 40 vehicles and field staff of up to 100 employees. Amazon requires them to offer healthcare, paid time off, and competitive wages. The online giant said entrepreneurs can get started with as low as $10,000 and earn up to $300,000 annually in profit.


Google Pixel 3 Update; Amazon Rekognition; Tesla Sabotage; Kids Hearing & Music Players

Google has had better success with the Pixel 2 phones that it had with the original model, and expects to see more growth with the Pixel 3 and 3 XL. A little more info has trickled out about the upcoming handsets. Cnet.com reports that we will probably see the phones debut in early October. It appears that they will sport a front screen ‘notch’ like the Apple iPhone X. Geeks digging through the beta code of Android P say the code points to the Pixel 3’s getting wireless charging like the iPhone, and probably a glass back. One exciting plus…the larger 3XL may have and edge to edge display and TWO front-facing cameras, in addition to the 2 rear cams!

There had already been unrest over Amazon selling its facial recognition tech to law enforcement…the tech can detect faces in images and videos. Now, CNN says that almost 20 groups of Amazon shareholders are pressing the company to stop selling the tech to law enforcement. The investors expressed their views in a letter, warning of potential civil and human rights violations…and of course how that could have a negative impact on Amazon stock. Back in April, Amazon had announced that Rekognition had been made 25% more accurate at picking out faces that the prior version. Shareholders are concerned about the disproportionate surveilance of people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations, as well as sales to authoritarian regimes.

Tesla has gotten up to 3,500 Model 3’s per week, on the way to the 5,000 Elon Musk promised by next month. Now, there may have been sabotage that electronically threw a wrench into the works. According to CNBC, Musk sent an all hands email to staff, saying a disgruntled employee had done ‘quite extensive and damaging sabotage to our operations,’  Musk said the employee had made ‘direct code changes’ to the company’s production systems, and even exported ‘large amounts’ of Tesla code to unidentified 3rd parties. The email says the person became disgruntled after not getting a promotion, but may also have been working with short sellers and oil and gas companies. Thus far, Tesla has not commented on the leaked email. For Jason Middleton, I’m Clark Reid

A new study indicates that kids who listen to portable music players are three times more likely to suffer hearing loss than those who don’t! Gizmodo notes that the large-scale study was conducted among more than 3,000 children aged 9-11. Of those, 14 percent, or 450 children, had hearing problems, based on tests. Seven percent tested positive for high-frequency hearing loss, a form of hearing loss often caused by noise exposure, usually only in one ear. Looking only at the 2,000 children for whom they had data about music player use, the researchers estimated that children who listened to portable music players were nearly three times as likely to have high-frequency hearing loss than those who didn’t.


Apple Picks Up Waymo Wheel; Facebook Limits Weapon Ad Views to Teens; Foxconn N.A. HQ to Milwaukee; Google Pumps Half Billion into Chinese e-commerce Firm

Although Apple has been seen as withdrawing from the self-driving car race, they have continued to busily work on software and hardware integration they could license to others for self-driving cars. Now, Apple’s secretive autopilot Project Titan has picked up a biggie from Alphabet’s Waymo…Jaime Waydo. Before Waymo, she worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Waydo was responsible at Waymo for checking prototype safety and had a big hand on giving the ok for them to start real-world tests in Phoenix. At NASA, she worked on the Mars rovers. Appleinsider.com points out that Apple has continued to build up its test fleet, and may well need to beef up quality control. 

Facebook has announced that they will begin preventing minors from seeing ads for gun accessories like magazines and holsters. According to theverge.com, ads were already banned for guns and modifications, but now such items as above, and also including gun mounted scopes, flashlights, slings, etc. will be restricted to those over 18. Facebook’s rationale is to age-limit accessories that might make guns seem cooler to teens. The change comes in the aftermath of school shootings in Santa Fe, Texas, Parkland, Florida, and others. Some have grumbled that it’s a baby step, but it’s a start. The new policy is effective June 21st.

It’s been promised for some time, and now main Apple supplier Foxconn has announced that their North American headquarters will be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The firm has bought a seven story building in the city’s downtown area, and reuters.com says will eventually be staffed with some 500 employees. Foxconn had also previously promised to pump $10 billion over 4 years into a 20 million square foot LCD panel plant in Wisconsin. That operation is slated to eventually employ up to 13,000 people. Foxconn is the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, employing over a million people worldwide.

Google will pour $550 million in cash into China’s second largest e-commerce operator, JD.com. According to CNBC, Google and JD will work together to develop retail infrastructure that can better personalize the shopping experience and reduce friction in many markets, including Southeast Asia. JD.com will also make a selection of items available for customers in the US and Europe via Google Shopping…a service that lets people search for products on e-commerce sites and compare prices between sellers. Google hopes to win back product searches from Amazon with the beefed up selection from JD.com.  In another case of synergy between Google and JD, JD has been testing drone deliveries to reach rural customers in China.


Samsung Galaxy X Folder; iPhones Beef Up Hack-proofing; Waymo Ridership; Microsoft Eyes Automated Check Out

The mythic Samsung Galaxy X folding smartphone may yet be coming…the latest rumors say in 2019…pretty cool news for those excited about a phone with a large, folding screen. Ok…that’s the good news. The not-so-good news? According to Golden Bridge Investment, it will probably cost a bit under $1850…or almost double the cost of the present iPhone X. In addition to the two OLED screens with virtually no bezel between them that fold in, the handset will have a third panel for use when the phone is folded. Bgr.com reports that unfolded, the inner screens will combine for a phablet-sized  7.3 inch display! Samsung partners should get a preview at next year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

Apple has confirmed a leak that says it is closing the tech loophole that has been letting law enforcement hack iPhones via USB based hardware like the GrayKey box. The GrayKey box is designed to plug into the Lightening port of an iPhone, and it then uses a data connection to brute force a passcode in as little as a few hours.  In an upcoming software update, the port will be disabled and require a password starting an hour after the phone is locked. The setting will be enabled by default. Macrumors.com says an exception is charging…which doesn’t require a data connection. Apple notes that they aren’t anti-law enforcement…in 2017 they responded to over 29,000 National Security Requests from the US government.

This Spring, Google’s Waymo kicked off an Early Rider program to let people in Arizona get their feet wet in experiencing self-driving cars. They have now let us in on a bit of a progress report. Waymo has gotten 20,000 applications to participate, and so far, riders have ranged in age from 9 to 69. Destinations pretty well mirror rides from Uber or Lyft…the most popular is getting to work…followed by restaurants, schools, and bars. According to 9to5google.com, the biggest request by riders: closer pickup and drop-off points. You’ll be glad to know that Waymo is working on how to gently wake napping riders upon arriving at their destination!

Amazon’s checkout-less stores…Amazon Go… have been covered here a number of times, but now there’s word of a heavyweight challenger in the push to eliminate the check out line at stores….Microsoft. Reuters.com says The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is developing systems that track what shoppers add to their carts. Microsoft has shown sample technology to retailers from around the world and has had talks with Walmart  about a potential collaboration. While it isn’t clear how soon Microsoft could get their system to the market, it’s worth noting that they are the #2 provider of cloud services behind Amazon. According to analyst Gene Munster of Loop Ventures, the US market for automated checkout is worth some $50 billion dollars.


Fire TV Cube Gets Alexa; Lyft Redesigns App; Waymo Passes Big Milestone; Instagram Long Form Video

Amazon has announced the Fire TV Cube. It’s a set top box with all the usual suspects: Netflix, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, HBO Go, Sling, And Amazon Prime Video. It also features Alexa…which Engadget.com notes was already available in the Stick and Fire TV box…but the Cube has full-featured Alexa. You can access thousands of third party ‘skills’ on the Cube just like an Echo. The Cube had eight built-in microphones, and can turn on your TV, sound system, cable box. Amazon demoed it by saying ‘Alexa…I’m home,’ and it turned on the entire home theatre system, and brought up the lights in the room. It supports cable boxes from Comcast as well as Dish and DirecTV. There is an IR extension cable for the cable box so the Cube can turn it on and off when the gadgets aren’t line of sight. It ships June 21st for $119. ***UPDATE*** Prime members can preorder and save $30 for a limited time!

Lyft is updating its app for the 1st time in 3 years, and putting more emphasis on shared rides and public transit. Theverge.com reports that it should roll out to everyone by the end of the month. A few changes include Lift Line being rebranded ‘Shared Rides’ and giving that feature a more prominent place in the app. Lyft says it wants shared rides to be 50% of its business by 2020, and has promised to lower its carbon footprint. The updated app will be customized based on a riders’ preferred services and locations. The algorithm considers account fare price, trip time, and more to present the most efficient ride for users, whether a solo rider or shared ride. There is a tweak that encourages riders to get picked up on side streets…which has been piloted in San Francisco (on Valencia Street), and Lyft got 20,000 riders to divert to side street pickup.

Now, more than ever, there’s Google’s Waymo and everyone else when it comes to self-driving cars. According to arstechnica.com, Waymo hit 7 million self-driven miles this week. For reference, they just announced that they had passed up 6 million less than a month ago! Waymo plans to launch commercial driverless taxi service in the Phoenix area before the end of the year.

Instagram is adding support for video of up to an hour in length, with the long form video hub designed to compete with YouTube and Snapchat Discover. According to 9to5google.com, all the videos will be in vertical orientation and 4K resolution. The company has been reportedly meeting with social media stars and content publishers in prep for launching the feature, which is planned for June 20th. No details have gotten out on monetization, but Instagram apparently intends to let creators and publishers earn money from the longer form videos.