United States

40 Cellphone-Tracking Devices Discovered Throughout Washington (nbcwashington.com) 62

The investigative news "I-Team" of a local TV station in Washington D.C. drove around with "a leading mobile security expert" -- and discovered dozens of StingRay devices mimicking cellphone towers to track phone and intercept calls in Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The I-Team found them in high-profile areas like outside the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue and while driving across the 14th Street bridge into Crystal City... The I-Team's test phones detected 40 potential locations where the spy devices could be operating, while driving around for just a few hours. "I suppose if you spent more time you'd find even more," said D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh. "I have bad news for the public: Our privacy isn't what it once was..."

The good news is about half the devices the I-Team found were likely law enforcement investigating crimes or our government using the devices defensively to identify certain cellphone numbers as they approach important locations, said Aaron Turner, a leading mobile security expert... The I-Team got picked up [by StingRay devices] twice off of International Drive, right near the Chinese and Israeli embassies, then got another two hits along Massachusetts Avenue near Romania and Turkey... The phones appeared to remain connected to a fake tower the longest, right near the Russian Embassy.

StringRay devices are also being used in at least 25 states by police departments, according to the ACLU. The devices were authorized by the FCC back in 2011 for "federal, state, local public safety and law enforcement officials only" (and requiring coordination with the FBI).

But back in April the Associated Press reported that "For the first time, the U.S. government has publicly acknowledged the existence in Washington of what appear to be rogue devices that foreign spies and criminals could be using to track individual cellphones and intercept calls and messages... More sophisticated versions can eavesdrop on calls by forcing phones to step down to older, unencrypted 2G wireless technology. Some attempt to plant malware."
Android

With Steam Link App, Your Smartphone Can Be An Imperfect Gaming Monitor (arstechnica.com) 47

Ars Technica's Kyle Orland shares his experience with Valve's recently announced Steam Link app, which lets users play games running on a PC via a tablet, mobile phone, or Apple TV on the same network. The app launches today for Android 5.0+ devices; iOS support is "pending further review from Apple." From the report: Valve isn't kidding when it says a Wi-Fi router in the 5Ghz band is required for wireless streaming. I first tested iPad streaming on the low-end 2.4Ghz router provided with my Verizon FiOS subscription (an Actiontec MI424WR), with a wired Ethernet connection to my Windows gaming rig on the other end. The Steam Link network test warned me that "your network may not work well with Steam Link," thanks to 1- to 2-percent frame loss and about 15ms of "network variance," depending on when I tested. Even graphically simple games like The Binding of Isaac ran at an unplayably slowed-down rate on this connection, with frequent dropped inputs to boot.

Switching over to a 5GHz tri-band router (The Netgear Nighthawk X6, to be precise), the same network test reported a "fantastic" connection that "look[s] like it will work well with Steam." On this router, remotely played games ran incredibly smoothly at the iPad's full 1080p resolution, with total round-trip display latency ranging anywhere from 50 to 150ms, according to Steam Link's reports (and one-way "input lag" of less than 1ms). At that level of delay, playing felt practically indistinguishable from playing directly on the computer, with no noticeable gameplay impact even on quick-response titles like Cuphead.

The Almighty Buck

Comcast Charges $90 Install Fee At Homes That Already Have Comcast Installed (arstechnica.com) 141

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Based on our tests, signing up for standalone Internet or TV service on Comcast.com often requires payment of a $59.99 or $89.99 installation fee, depending on where you live. (The fee was $60 in two Massachusetts suburbs and $90 at homes in Houston, Texas, and Seattle, Washington.) In cases where the $60 or $90 fee is charged, the fee is required whether you purchase your own modem or rent one from Comcast for another $11 a month.

The installation fee might be charged even if the home you're buying service at has existing Comcast service, and even if you order Internet speeds lower than those purchased by the current occupant. That means the fee is charged even when Comcast doesn't have to make any upgrades at the house or apartment you're moving into. Internet speed makes no difference, as the fee may be charged whether you purchase 15Mbps downloads or gigabit service. You can avoid the installation fee by purchasing certain bundles that include both TV and Internet, but the fee is often mandatory if you buy only TV service or broadband individually. The $60 or $90 fee is also charged when you buy phone service only or a "double-play" package of phone service and broadband.

Piracy

The Brazen Bootlegging of a Multibillion-Dollar Sports Network (nytimes.com) 63

What do you do when your multibillion dollar sports network has been stolen? For the last several days, executives at Qatar's beIN Sports, which functions as the ESPN of the Middle East, have been pondering the same question. For the last several months, live coverage of beIN Sports feed is being broadcast on nearly a dozen beoutQ channels, a bootlegging operation seemingly based in Saudi Arabia, whose roots lie in the bitter political dispute between Qatar and a coalition of countries led by its largest neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. From a report: The coalition countries have subjected Qatar to a punishing blockade over the past year. Those countries last year accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and criticized its relationship with Iran, an ally of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. They enacted an embargo, cut off diplomatic ties and set up the blockade of the energy-rich emirate, closing Qatar's access to many of the region's ports and much of its airspace. Qatar has denied the allegations and has claimed it has assisted the United States in its war on terrorism.

Now, one month before the start of the World Cup, the world's most-watched sporting event and beIN's signature property, the audacious piracy operation is positioned to illicitly deliver the tournament's 64 games to much of the Middle East. Qatar, despite abundant resources, has been powerless to stop it. Decoder boxes embossed with the beoutQ logo have for months been available across Saudi Arabia and are now for sale in other Arab-speaking countries. A one-year subscription costs $100. A Bangladeshi worker reached by phone at Sharif Electronics in Jeddah this week said his shop has been selling the boxes for three months. "Many people buy them," he said.

Cloud

Edge Computing: Explained (theverge.com) 159

An anonymous reader shares a report from The Verge, written by Paul Miller: In the beginning, there was One Big Computer. Then, in the Unix era, we learned how to connect to that computer using dumb (not a pejorative) terminals. Next we had personal computers, which was the first time regular people really owned the hardware that did the work. Right now, in 2018, we're firmly in the cloud computing era. Many of us still own personal computers, but we mostly use them to access centralized services like Dropbox, Gmail, Office 365, and Slack. Additionally, devices like Amazon Echo, Google Chromecast, and the Apple TV are powered by content and intelligence that's in the cloud -- as opposed to the DVD box set of Little House on the Prairie or CD-ROM copy of Encarta you might've enjoyed in the personal computing era. As centralized as this all sounds, the truly amazing thing about cloud computing is that a seriously large percentage of all companies in the world now rely on the infrastructure, hosting, machine learning, and compute power of a very select few cloud providers: Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM.

The advent of edge computing as a buzzword you should perhaps pay attention to is the realization by these companies that there isn't much growth left in the cloud space. Almost everything that can be centralized has been centralized. Most of the new opportunities for the "cloud" lie at the "edge." The word edge in this context means literal geographic distribution. Edge computing is computing that's done at or near the source of the data, instead of relying on the cloud at one of a dozen data centers to do all the work. It doesn't mean the cloud will disappear. It means the cloud is coming to you.
Miller goes on to "examine what people mean practically when they extoll edge computing," focusing on latency, privacy and security, and bandwidth.
Games

Free To Play, Expensive To Love: 'Fortnite' Changes Video Game Business (reuters.com) 191

An anonymous reader shares a report: To see the storm that online video game "Fortnite" has unleashed on the world, just visit Jett Sacher in Brooklyn. The 13-year-old spends an hour or two every day on the game with his friends and is not afraid to spend his pocket money on it - bit by bit. "So I bought one dance, two skins and the battle pass," Sacher told Reuters TV about recent gaming sessions. "So that's, I spent $20 on both skins so $40 ... and the dance was another $10 so $50, 60 bucks, something like that."

Sacher's pay-as-you-go expenditure on dressing up his online avatar in the 'free-to-play' game helped "Fortnite" take in an estimated $223 million from in-game purchases in March, according to Joost Van Dreunen at research firm SuperData. "Fortnite," a sort of hybrid of "The Hunger Games" and "Minecraft," drops 100 people onto an island to fight each other for survival. It is a game-changer in the industry, analysts have said, because of the huge revenue it is making from "tween" and teenage boys purchasing outfits and other add-ons. Its publisher, Epic Games, is now worth $4.5 billion, according to an estimate.
Further reading: Gamers are the new stars. Esports arenas are the new movie theaters (The New York Times).
Communications

Iran Bans Use of Telegram Messaging App To Protect 'National Security' (reuters.com) 44

Iran has banned all use of the popular Telegram messaging app. The ban had been introduced to protect "national security," said a statement aired on state television. From a report: Iran had been considering the ban since January when protests over economic grievances erupted in more than 80 cities and later turned into demonstrations against the clerical and security elite of the Islamic Republic. Some hardline officials said protesters used Telegram to organize the rallies, which were ultimately contained by the Revolutionary Guards and their affiliated volunteer Basij militia. The app was temporarily blocked in January. "Considering various complaints against the Telegram social networking app by Iranian citizens, and based on the demand of security organizations to confront the illegal activities of Telegram, the judiciary has banned its usage in Iran," state TV reported. "All Internet providers in Iran must take steps to block Telegram's website and app as of April 30," the judiciary website Mizan quoted a court order as saying.
Television

Comcast Won't Give New Speed Boost To Internet Users Who Don't Buy TV Service (arstechnica.com) 264

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Last week, Comcast announced speed increases for customers in Houston and the Oregon/SW Washington areas. The announcement headlines were "Comcast increases Internet speeds for some video customers." Customers with 60Mbps Internet download speeds are being upped to 150Mbps; 150Mbps subscribers are going to 250Mbps; and 250Mbps subscribers are getting a raise to 400Mbps or 1Gbps. Comcast says speed increases will kick in automatically without raising the customers' monthly bills -- but only if they subscribe to certain bundles that include both Internet and TV service.

"Cord cutters are not invited to the [speed increase] party," the Houston Chronicle wrote. "Only those who bundle Internet with cable television and other services... will see their speeds go up at no extra charge." Presumably, Internet-only customers can get the new speeds by paying more or by bundling their Internet subscriptions with video.

Television

While More People Switch To Streaming TV, Cable Stocks are Plummetting (investors.com) 120

An anonymous reader quotes Investor's Business Daily: Shares in Charter Communications plunged after the cable TV firm reported first quarter earnings and lost more video subscribers than expected, also sparking a sell-off in Comcast and Altice USA... Charter said it lost 122,000 video subscribers, nearly triple analyst predictions for a fall of 43,000. Comcast on Wednesday said it lost 96,000 video subscribers, exceeding estimates for a drop of 75,000.... With Friday's sell-off, Comcast stock is down 20% in 2018, with Charter falling more than 24%...

Cable TV firms aren't the only losers. AT&T this week said it lost 187,000 pay-TV customers, including satellite TV subscribers and its U-verse landline business. AT&T's DirecTV Now internet streaming service added 312,000 customers. But AT&T garners much lower profit margins from video streaming.

Cable companies are now raising prices on broadband services to compensate, according to the article.

MarketWatch notes that Charter also lost 100,000 customers in the same three-month period in 2017, calling the ongoing trend "a fundamental shift in consumer behavior."
Television

Cord Cutting Caused By 74 Percent TV Price Hikes Since 2000, Says Report (dslreports.com) 173

A new study by Kagan, S&P Global Market Intelligence finds that cord cutting is being caused primarily by a 74% increase in customer cable bills since 2000. From a report: That increase is even adjusted for inflation, and it should be noted that individual earnings have seen a modest decline during that same period, making soaring cable rates untenable for many. This affordability gap is "squeezing penetration rates, particularly among the more economically vulnerable households," the research company added. As their chart illustrates, prices for multichannel packages have steadily risen from just below $60 a month in 2000 to close to $100 in 2016. All while incomes remained largely stagnant. As customers grow increasingly angry at cable TV rate hikes and defect to streaming alternatives, most cable operators are simply raising the price of broadband (often via usage caps and overage fees) to try and make up for lost revenue. And because most parts of America still don't really see healthy broadband competition, they can consistently get away with it.
Television

8K TVs Are Coming, But Don't Buy the Hype (engadget.com) 299

If the 8,294,400 pixels of resolution on an Ultra High Definition television just don't seem to convey enough detail, fear not: The electronics industry has heard your cry. From a report: Even as UHD TVs, often called 4K TVs for their nearly 4,000 pixels of horizontal resolution, approach half of display shipments in the U.S., set manufacturers have been stepping up their demos of 8K sets that, with their 7680-by-4320 resolution, pack in a full 33,177,600 pixels. And Sharp is now expanding its distribution of one such set, the 70-inch LV-70X500E. Following its October debut in China and subsequent arrivals in Japan and Taiwan, this 8K display will go on sale across Europe at the end of April for about $13,800 at current exchange rates. That, apparently, is supposed to be a reasonable price for a set that supports a video format that offers next to nothing to watch, that can't be streamed on most broadband connections or fit onto Blu-ray discs and which can't even be properly appreciated unless you get a set too big to fit in many living rooms.

[...] The highlights reel playing on a demo unit of Sharp's 8K set required 300 megabits per second of bandwidth to stream, said Adrian Wysocki, group product manager at UMC, the Sharp-owned firm that builds TVs in Poland for the company. He suggested in a conversation Friday that more efficient formats could cut that to 100 Mbps. Only 23.2% of U.S. fixed-broadband connections hit that speed at the end of 2016, according to to the Federal Communications Commission's latest report on internet access services.

XBox (Games)

Xbox One April Update Rolling Out With Low-Latency Mode, FreeSync, and 1440p Support; 120Hz Support Coming In May Update (theverge.com) 48

Microsoft is rolling out a new Xbox One update that brings 1440p support for the Xbox One S and X, as well as support for AMD's FreeSync technology to allow compatible displays to sync refresh rates with Microsoft's consoles. A subsequent update in May will bring 120Hz-display refresh-rate support to the Xbox One. The Verge reports: FreeSync, like Nvidia's G-Sync, helps remove tearing or stuttering usually associated with gaming on monitors, as the feature syncs refresh rates to ensure games run smoothly. Alongside this stutter-free tech, Microsoft is also supporting automatic switching to a TV's game mode. Auto Low-Latency Mode, as Microsoft calls it, will be supported on new TVs, and will automatically switch a TV into game mode to take advantage of the latency reductions. The Xbox One will also support disabling game mode when you switch to another app like Netflix. Microsoft is also making some audio tweaks with the April update for the Xbox One. New system sounds take advantage of spatial sound to fully support surround sound systems when you navigate around. Gamers who listen to music while playing can also now balance game audio against background music right inside the Xbox Guide. Other features in this update include sharing game clips direct to Twitter, dark to light mode transitions based on sunrise / sunset, and improvements to Microsoft Edge to let you download or upload pictures, music, and videos.
Piracy

Netflix, Amazon, and Major Studios Try To Shut Down $20-Per-Month TV Service (arstechnica.com) 212

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Netflix, Amazon, and the major film studios have once again joined forces to sue the maker of a TV service and hardware device, alleging that the products are designed to illegally stream copyrighted videos. The lawsuit was filed against the company behind Set TV, which sells a $20-per-month TV service with more than 500 channels.

"Defendants market and sell subscriptions to 'Setvnow,' a software application that Defendants urge their customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of Plaintiffs' copyrighted motion pictures and television shows," the complaint says. Besides Netflix and Amazon, the plaintiffs are Columbia Pictures, Disney, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. The complaint was filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The companies are asking for permanent injunctions to prevent further distribution of Set TV software and devices, the impoundment of Set TV devices, and for damages including the defendants' profits.

Businesses

Amazon Has a Top-Secret Plan to Build Home Robots (bloomberg.com) 91

After making smart speakers a household product (at least to some), Amazon seems to have found its next big consumer product: robots. Amazon is building smart robots that are equipped with cameras that let them drive around homes, Bloomberg reported Monday. These robots could launch as soon as next year. From the report: Codenamed "Vesta," after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, the project is overseen by Gregg Zehr, who runs Amazon's Lab126 hardware research and development division based in Sunnyvale, California. Lab126 is responsible for Amazon devices such as the Echo speakers, Fire TV set-top-boxes, Fire tablets and the ill-fated Fire Phone.

The Vesta project originated a few years ago, but this year Amazon began to aggressively ramp up hiring. There are dozens of listings on the Lab 126 Jobs page for openings like "Software Engineer, Robotics" and "Principle Sensors Engineer." People briefed on the plan say the company hopes to begin seeding the robots in employees' homes by the end of this year, and potentially with consumers as early as 2019, though the timeline could change, and Amazon hardware projects are sometimes killed during gestation.

Displays

Are Widescreen Laptops Dumb? (theverge.com) 411

"After years of phones, laptops, tablets, and TV screens converging on 16:9 as the 'right' display shape -- allowing video playback without distracting black bars -- smartphones have disturbed the universality recently by moving to even more elongated formats like 18:9, 19:9, or even 19.5:9 in the iPhone X's case," writes Amelia Holowaty Krales via The Verge. "That's prompted me to consider where else the default widescreen proportions might be a poor fit, and I've realized that laptops are the worst offenders." Krales makes the case for why a 16:9 screen of 13 to 15 inches in size is a poor fit: Practically every interface in Apple's macOS, Microsoft's Windows, and on the web is designed by stacking user controls in a vertical hierarchy. At the top of every MacBook, there's a menu bar. At the bottom, by default, is the Dock for launching your most-used apps. On Windows, you have the taskbar serving a similar purpose -- and though it may be moved around the screen like Apple's Dock, it's most commonly kept as a sliver traversing the bottom of the display. Every window in these operating systems has chrome -- the extra buttons and indicator bars that allow you to close, reshape, or move a window around -- and the components of that chrome are usually attached at the top and bottom. Look at your favorite website (hopefully this one) on the internet, and you'll again see a vertical structure.

As if all that wasn't enough, there's also the matter of tabs. Tabs are a couple of decades old now, and, like much of the rest of the desktop and web environment, they were initially thought up in an age where the predominant computer displays were close to square with a 4:3 aspect ratio. That's to say, most computer screens were the shape of an iPad when many of today's most common interface and design elements were being developed. As much of a chrome minimalist as I try to be, I still can't extricate myself from needing a menu bar in my OS and tab and address bars inside my browser. I'm still learning to live without a bookmarks bar. With all of these horizontal bars invading our vertical space, a 16:9 screen quickly starts to feel cramped, especially at the typical laptop size. You wind up spending more time scrolling through content than engaging with it.
What is your preferred aspect ratio for a laptop? Do you prefer Microsoft and Google's machines that have a squarer 3:2 aspect ratio, or Apple's MacBook Pro that has a 16:10 display?
Bitcoin

Hackers Keep Robbing Cryptocurrency YouTubers (theverge.com) 42

Hackers are going after YouTubers who make videos about cryptocurrencies. Adrianne Jeffries, reporting for The Verge: Cryptocurrency vlogging has exploded on YouTube over the last two years. In the last 90 days, there were 122,000 videos on cryptocurrency or Bitcoin uploaded to YouTube, garnering 328 million views, according to video analytics platform Tubular Labs. As it turns out, YouTubers are juicy targets for hackers because they share so much information about themselves. They often share their screens as they make trades, which can reveal what apps, usernames, and cryptocurrency addresses they use. They may even tell their followers what systems they use to secure their holdings, which can end up being a blueprint for attackers.

"You have to be very careful about that stuff as a YouTuber," says Peter Saddington, the host of Decentralized TV on YouTube who infamously bought a Lamborghini with his Bitcoin earnings. "In my early days of YouTube, I used to show my trades. I learned that was not a good idea." Saddington was hacked in late 2017.

Businesses

Amazon and Best Buy Team Up To Sell Smart TVs (cnet.com) 98

Amazon and Best Buy want to sell you your next smart TV. From a report: The companies, which are two of the biggest electronics retailers in the US, on Wednesday revealed a new multiyear partnership to sell the next generation of TVs running Amazon's Fire TV operating system to customers in the US and Canada. Best Buy will be the exclusive seller for more than 10 4K and HD Fire TV Edition models made by Toshiba and Best Buy's Insignia brand starting this summer. Pricing on the sets has not yet been announced. These smart TVs will be available only in Best Buy stores, on BestBuy.com and, for the first time, from Best Buy as a seller on Amazon.com.
Transportation

Southwest Airlines Engine Failure Results In First Fatality On US Airline In 9 Years (heavy.com) 332

schwit1 shares a report from Heavy: Tammie Jo Shults is the pilot who bravely flew Southwest Flight 1380 to safety after part of its left engine ripped off, damaging a window and nearly sucking a woman out of the plane. The flight was en route to Dallas Love airport from New York City, and had to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia. Shults, 56, kept her cool during an incredibly intense situation, audio from her conversation with air traffic controllers reveals, while many passengers posted on social media that they were scared these were their last moments. She, with the help of the co-pilot and the rest of the crew, landed the plane safely. The NTSB reported that there was one fatality out of 143 passengers on board. Some passengers said that someone had a heart attack during the flight, but it's not yet known if this was the fatality reported by the NTSB. The woman who died has been identified by KOAT-TV as Jennifer Riordan, 43, of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Movies

Netflix Licensed Content Generates 80% of US Viewing, Study Finds (variety.com) 109

Netflix is spending a pretty penny on original entertainment -- but while that stuff grabs most of the headlines, it's actually licensed titles like TV show reruns that still form the core of the company's streaming business. From a report: That's according to a data analysis from 7Park Data, which found that 80% of Netflix U.S. viewing is from licensed content with 20% from original shows like "House of Cards" or "Stranger Things." The firm also found that 42% of Netflix subscribers watch mostly licensed content (95% or more of their total streaming). Just 18% of Netflix's U.S. streaming customers are "originals dominant," whose viewing comprises 40%-100% of originals, according to 7Park. The data is for the 12-month period that ended September 2017.
Businesses

Comcast Is Bundling Netflix Into Cable Packages (techcrunch.com) 45

The latest option in Comcast's Xfinity cable bundle is Netflix. The two companies announced an expansion of their partnership today, which was first established in 2016 when Comcast added Netflix to its X1 interface. TechCrunch reports: The companies said they will expand that existing relationship by bundling Netflix into the overall subscription in new and existing Xfinity packages. Netflix's subscriber growth -- the primary driver of its value as a public company -- continues to surge, and it appears that this could be another piece in its tool kit to keep that engine humming. Those cable packages already include an increasing breakout of diverse services that allow for streaming outside of the over-the-top experience, like HBO Go and ESPN, and this offers another streaming service on-the-go for users. By tethering to additional over-the-top services, Netflix has a chance to woo subscribers that might otherwise just stick with their existing service providers and bake itself directly into that experience. The bundle, which will be available to new and existing Xfinity customers, will be included in its cable TV, phone and internet plans. More information about XFINITY service available in this XFINITY review.

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