Phone maker settles charges it let partner collect customers’ text messages

BLU phones sent a massive amount of data to firmware and data-mining provider.

Enlarge (credit: BLU)

Phone maker BLU is settling charges that it allowed a China-based partner to collect a mountain of customers' personal data—including full content of text messages, real-time locations, telephone numbers, contacts, and installed apps—despite promises it would keep such details private.

Under a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission announced Monday, BLU agreed to implement a "comprehensive data-security program" to prevent similar privacy leaks in the future. Both the company as a whole and co-owner and president Samuel Ohev-Zion are barred from misrepresenting the extent to which they protect the privacy and security of personal information. The company further will be subject to third-party assessments of its security program every two years for 20 years and must comply with record-keeping and compliance-monitoring requirements.

The settlement stems from research published in November 2016 by security firm Kryptowire. It found that BLU phones were transmitting a massive amount of private customer data to AdUps Technologies, a Shanghai-based provider of firmware that ran on the affected devices. Kryptowire said AdUps appeared to gather the data to help phone manufacturers and carriers track the behavior of their customers for advertising purposes.

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After data “clash” report, WhatsApp founder says he’s leaving Facebook

News marks the second Whatsapp co-founder departure in less than a year.

Enlarge (credit: WhatsApp)

In the wake of a Washington Post report that alleged a "clash" over Facebook data practices, WhatsApp co-founder and Facebook board member Jan Koum confirmed that he is leaving the company, effective immediately.

"It's been almost a decade since Brian and I started WhatsApp, and it's been an amazing journey with some of the best people," Koum posted on his personal Facebook page on Monday. "But it is time for me to move on." His status included a Facebook "emotional" tag indicating that he is "sad."

Koum's post doesn't include an explanation of exactly why he's leaving other than "doing things I enjoy outside of technology." That leaves WaPo's Monday report as the loudest possible explanation available at the moment.

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Boeing slams the Falcon Heavy rocket as “too small”

“SpaceX’s rocket is a smaller type of rocket that can’t meet NASA’s deep-space needs.”

Enlarge / Image from Boeing's Watch US Fly website. (credit: Boeing)

Recently, Boeing created a website called "Watch US Fly" to promote its aerospace industry—a grab bag of everything from Chinese tariffs to President Trump's visit to the company's facilities in St. Louis. Among the most intriguing sections is one that promotes the company's Space Launch System rocket and argues that SpaceX's Falcon Heavy booster is "too small" for NASA's deep exploration program.

"The Falcon Heavy launch turned heads in February, but SpaceX's rocket is a smaller type of rocket that can't meet NASA's deep-space needs," the website states. "Once the Boeing-built SLS is operational, it will be the most powerful rocket ever built."

The Boeing site backs up this claim by quoting NASA's Bill Gerstenmaier, who talked about the differences between the SLS rocket and Falcon Heavy at a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council meeting in March. Gerstenmaier, the chief of NASA's human spaceflight program, said the SLS had "unique capabilities" that the Falcon Heavy rocket does not have. However, as Ars reported at the time, Gerstenmaier actually struggled to explain why NASA needed the SLS rocket because the space agency has not yet built anything that will take advantage of those capabilities.

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TCL’s follow-up to last year’s popular Roku 4K TVs starts at $649, ships tomorrow

Last year’s affordable 4K HDR TVs see slight improvements in the 6 series.


Chinese brand TCL has announced pricing for its new 6-Series Roku TVs, the follow-ups to last year's extremely popular P-Series. The 6-Series improves on last year's in terms of picture quality and comes in both 55-inch and 65-inch sizes—last year's models only came in a 55-inch configuration.

The 55-inch model is currently priced at $649.99, and the 65-inch model comes in at $999.99. That's in line with what last year's TVs cost. As we've previously reported, the main improvement (apart from the larger size) in play here is an expanded number of full-array local dimming zones. Last year's P-Series had 72 zones, whereas this year's 55-inch 6-Series TV has 96 zones, and the 65-inch has 120 zones.

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Russia’s floating nuclear power plant is not the first of its kind

A 10MW nuclear reactor floated in a Panamanian lake during the Vietnam War.

US National Archives and Records Administration

Try as I might, I'm not perfect. My goal is to get every detail in every story right, but sometimes a post gets through with a factual error. Such was the case last night, in a story about Russia's new floating nuclear power plant. Some background research led me to believe that it was the first of its kind.

A couple of Ars readers, thankfully, disabused me of that notion quickly (one cool thing about writing for Ars is you always know that you're writing for a bunch of people who are dramatically smarter than yourself). Though such a power system is quite rare, there has been another floating nuclear plant that we can point to as an example: a US Army barge called the Sturgis, which was installed in Panama during the Vietnam War.

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A first look at Ubuntu 18.04 LTS desktop

Ubuntu’s long-term support desktop is a welcome refresh.

Last week, Canonical released Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, the lastest long-term support version of the Ubuntu Linux distribution. Ars is working on a full review of the release, code-named "Bionic Beaver." But I wanted to share some first impressions of the desktop, which is a major advance over the last LTS version.

Canonical made a bit of a U-turn in its interface plans while developing the last interim release of Ubuntu (17.10, code-named "Artful Aardvark")—dropping development of its homegrown Unity interface and application launcher (as well as development of an Ubuntu phone), saying goodbye to the Ambiance interface theme of old, and embracing the GNOME 3.28 desktop instead. Also significant is the integration of Snapcraft's "snap" format—a universal containerized installer format for packaged applications on all Linux platforms—into Ubuntu's application store.

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A look at what the Windows 10 April 2018 update brings

Timeline is a smart new feature, and Windows continues its modernization.

Enlarge / Did I pick a picture of a clock because the update was released late or because the update's biggest feature is Timeline? The world may never know. (credit: John Loach / Flickr)

After some delays, the newest major update to Windows 10, the April 2018 Update, has just scraped into April. It's available to download right now and will start distribution on Windows Update on May 8th.

Even with its extended development period—a blue screen of death crash was discovered late in the process, forcing Microsoft to delay the release by a few weeks—the new release feels very similar to its predecessor. While the last couple of updates have tried to push new directions—virtual and augmented reality in the Fall Creators Update, 3D graphics in the Creators Update—with Microsoft trying to promote them as being themed collections of features gathered together, the new update doesn't have any particular overarching theme. Instead, it's a bunch of improvements to various parts of Windows, along with one particularly notable new feature.

That big new feature is one that we thought we were going to get in the Fall Creators Update: Timeline. Timeline adds a new dimension to the Windows task switcher (the one shown when you press Win+Tab or click the "Task view" button on the taskbar): specifically, time. The default view when you first enter the switcher is the same as it ever was, showing all the windows you have open so that you can instantly pick between them. But it now has a scrollbar. Scroll the screen down and you'll see historic documents, browser tabs, and applications.

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US Calls Out Dozens of Countries on Yearly ‘Piracy Watchlist’

The Office of the United States Trade Representative has published its yearly Special 301 Report, highlighting countries that fail to live up to US copyright protection standards. The Trump administration remains dedicated to effective enforcement of IP rights, and keeps Canada, Switzerland, Russia and more than two dozen other countries on the ‘Watch List.’

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

ustrEvery year the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) publishes its Special 301 Report highlighting countries that aren’t doing enough to protect US intellectual property rights.

The format remains the same as in previous years and lists roughly two dozen countries that, for different reasons, threaten the intellectual property rights of US companies.

The latest report deals with a wide range of issues including several problems linked to online piracy. One of the things which stand out, is that the USTR does a fair bit of copying itself, albeit with permission.

Entire sections of the report, including the recommendations and country overviews, are identical to last year. In some cases, the US Government didn’t even bother to update the year.

“The 2017 Notorious Markets List includes examples of online marketplaces reportedly engaging in commercial-scale online piracy, including sites hosted in or operated by parties located in Canada, China, Cyprus, India, the Netherlands, Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine, and elsewhere,” USTR writes, for example.

Most of the concrete piracy related problems mentioned in the report are in line with the talking points the entertainment industries have addressed in recent years. This includes stream-ripping, illicit streaming devices, and general pirate sites.

The USTR also mentions the increase in camcording piracy in Russia, which the MPAA reported a few months ago. In addition to a “lack of enforcement against intellectual property crimes” this one of the reasons why Russia remains on the Priority Watch List in 2018.

For Canada, there is bad news as well. While the country has been on USTR’s radar for many years, it has had been moved to the Priority Watch List in 2018, making it the only G7 country among the worst offenders.

“Canada remains the only G7 country identified in the Special 301 Report and the downgrade to the Priority Watch List this year reflects a failure to resolve key longstanding deficiencies in protection and enforcement of IP,” USTR writes.

Among other things, the US sees Canada’s copyright exception for educational purposes as a grave concern.

“The United States also remains deeply troubled by the ambiguous education-related exception to copyright that has significantly damaged the market for educational publishers and authors,” USTR writes.

Whether this is a major concern for the Canadian authorities remains to be seen. Canada previously said that it doesn’t trust the validity of the Special 301 Report and that the country will follow its own path, a sentiment that it shared elsewhere too.

“Canada does not recognize the validity of the Special 301 and considers the process and the Report to be flawed,” Canada’s Government wrote in a memo, responding to an earlier 301 report.

Switzerland also remains on notice with a feature on the Watch List. Just a few months ago, the European country urged the USTR to keep it off the list, as its new copyright law addresses the major concerns the US highlighted in the previous year.

However, since the proposed law has yet to be signed into law, Switzerland will keep its spot for now. The USTR also adds that the country may want to consider consumer awareness campaigns, public education, and voluntary stakeholder initiatives to further deter piracy.

The USTR’s full 301 Watch List and Priority Watch List are listed below and the associated report is available here (pdf).

Priority Watch List
– China
– Indonesia
– India
– Algeria
– Kuwait
– Russia
– Ukraine
– Argentina
– Canada
– Chile
– Colombia
– Venezuela

Watch List
– Thailand
– Vietnam
– Pakistan
– Tajikistan
– Turkmenistan
– Uzbekistan
– Egypt
– Lebanon
– Saudi Arabia
– Greece
– Romania
– Switzerland
– Turkey
– Mexico
– Costa Rica

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

More Human Than Human review: Light on killer robots, killer on AI inspection

New AI-focused documentary has info that can even surprise a tech editor.

Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting

More Human Than Human comes along at a time when perhaps no reminder is necessary: leaving life to bots—whether that means machine learning, artificial intelligence, genuine human-like androids, etc.—might get messy for us humans. Westworld gives us one version of a sentient-machine uprising every Sunday, and news cycles like those involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook provide gentler reminders that creating increasingly intelligent tech platforms can lead to unwanted manipulation and consequences right now.

But the new documentary (which debuted at South by Southwest and plays at the acclaimed Hot Docs festival in Toronto this week) doesn’t set out to paint a picture of some futuristic hellscape. Instead, it wants viewers to pause for a second to consider the forever promise of technology. “We grew up in the shadow of the space program, really believing that tech was going to make our lives better,” co-director Tommy Pallotta told Ars. “For five decades, we’ve seen this promise that tech would create more leisure time for us [and] that it’ll make all our lives better. It’s kind of insane we’re still sold the same promise, but what do we really have to show for it?”

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Windows 10 April 2018 update is available now if you want it, will roll out widely starting May 8th

As promised, Microsoft released the Windows 10 April 2018 update today. But you have to go out of your way to install the update if you want it right now. The company will begin a global rollout starting May 8th. That’s when users will start getting th…

As promised, Microsoft released the Windows 10 April 2018 update today. But you have to go out of your way to install the update if you want it right now. The company will begin a global rollout starting May 8th. That’s when users will start getting the update through the Windows Update process and when the […]

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