Cellphones

The Toughest (And Weakest) Phones Currently On the Market (tomsguide.com) 93

New submitter Daneel Olivaw R. shares a report from Tom's Guide: To measure each phone's toughness, [Tom's Guide] dropped it from both 4 and 6 feet onto wood and concrete. After each test, we recorded the damage to the phone. If a phone was rendered unusable -- the screen totally shattered, for instance -- then we stopped dropping it. [More details on the testing process can be found here.] Each drop was worth a maximum of 5 points; if a phone made it through all of the rounds unscathed, it would earn 35 points. The more severe the damage per drop was, the more points were deducted. If a phone was rendered unusable after a given drop, it would earn no points, and would not undergo any subsequent test. In total, there were seven tests. [...] If a phone died in the 6-foot edge drop, it was penalized an extra 10 percent. If it died in the 6-foot face drop, it was penalized 5 percent. And if it died when dropped into the toilet, it lost 2.5 percent. We then divided the total score by 3.5, to put it on a 10-point scale. Here are the scores of each device:

Motorola Moto Z2 Force - Toughness score: 8.5/10
LG X Venture - Toughness score: 6.6/10
Apple iPhone X - Toughness score: 6.2/10
LG V30 - Toughness score: 6/10
Samsung Galaxy S9 - Toughness score: 6/10
Motorola Moto G5 Plus - Toughness score: 5.1/10
Apple iPhone 8 - Toughness score: 4.9/10
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 - Toughness score: 4.3/10
OnePlus 5T - Toughness score: 4.3/10
Huawei Mate 10 Pro - Toughness score: 4.3/10
Google Pixel 2 XL - Toughness score: 4.3/10
iPhone SE - Toughness score: 3.9/10
Security

Google and Microsoft Disclose New CPU Flaw, and the Fix Can Slow Machines Down (theverge.com) 69

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Microsoft and Google are jointly disclosing a new CPU security vulnerability that's similar to the Meltdown and Spectre flaws that were revealed earlier this year. Labelled Speculative Store Bypass (variant 4), the latest vulnerability is a similar exploit to Spectre and exploits speculative execution that modern CPUs use. Browsers like Safari, Edge, and Chrome were all patched for Meltdown earlier this year, and Intel says "these mitigations are also applicable to variant 4 and available for consumers to use today." However, unlike Meltdown (and more similar to Spectre) this new vulnerability will also include firmware updates for CPUs that could affect performance. Intel has already delivered microcode updates for Speculative Store Bypass in beta form to OEMs, and the company expects them to be more broadly available in the coming weeks. The firmware updates will set the Speculative Store Bypass protection to off-by-default, ensuring that most people won't see negative performance impacts.

"If enabled, we've observed a performance impact of approximately 2-8 percent based on overall scores for benchmarks like SYSmark 2014 SE and SPEC integer rate on client 1 and server 2 test systems," explains Leslie Culbertson, Intel's security chief. As a result, end users (and particularly system administrators) will have to pick between security or optimal performance. The choice, like previous variants of Spectre, will come down to individual systems and servers, and the fact that this new variant appears to be less of a risk than the CPU flaws that were discovered earlier this year.

Businesses

US Treasury Secretary Calls For Google Monopoly Probe (theregister.co.uk) 77

After a 60 Minutes episode that focused on Google and its effective search monopoly, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin called for large tech companies to be investigated for potential antitrust violations. Asked whether Google was abusing its market dominance as a monopoly, Mnuchin told CNBC on Monday "these are issues that the Justice Department needs to look at seriously," and argued that it was important to "look at the power they have" noting that companies like Google "have a greater and greater impact on the economy." The Register reports: Mnuchin's willingness to directly criticize Google and other tech companies and argue that they should be under investigation is just the latest sign that Washington DC is serious about digging in the market power of Big Internet. It is notable that it was 20 years ago, almost to the day, that America finally dealt with another tech antitrust problem when the Justice Department and 20 state attorneys general filed suit -- on May 18, 1998 -- against what was then the most powerful tech company in the country: Microsoft.
Google

Google Sued For 'Clandestine Tracking' of 4.4 Million UK iPhone Users' Browsing Data (theguardian.com) 31

Google is being sued in the high court for as much as $4.3 billion for the alleged "clandestine tracking and collation" of personal information from 4.4 million iPhone users in the UK. From a report: The collective action is being led by former Which? director Richard Lloyd over claims Google bypassed the privacy settings of Apple's Safari browser on iPhones between August 2011 and February 2012 in order to divide people into categories for advertisers. At the opening of an expected two-day hearing in London on Monday, lawyers for Lloyd's campaign group Google You Owe Us told the court information collected by Google included race, physical and mental heath, political leanings, sexuality, social class, financial, shopping habits and location data.

Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing Lloyd, said information was then "aggregated" and users were put into groups such as "football lovers" or "current affairs enthusiasts" for the targeting of advertising. Tomlinson said the data was gathered through "clandestine tracking and collation" of browsing on the iPhone, known as the "Safari Workaround" -- an activity he said was exposed by a PhD researcher in 2012. Tomlinson said Google has already paid $39.5m to settle claims in the US relating to the practice. Google was fined $22.5m for the practice by the US Federal Trade Commission in 2012 and forced to pay $17m to 37 US states.

Google

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin Wants Justice Department To Scrutinize Big Tech (cnbc.com) 112

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Monday joined the growing chorus of government officials concerned about tech monopolies. From a report: When asked if Google is a monopoly, Mnuchin said, "These are issues that the Justice Department needs to look at seriously -- not for any one company -- but obviously as these technology companies have a greater and greater impact on the economy, I think that you have to look at the power they have," Mnuchin told CNBC's "Squawk Box." Mnuchin acknowledged that antitrust matters don't fall under his jurisdiction, but said someone ought to be looking. His comments come on the heels of a "60 Minutes" segment on Google's unparalleled market share in online search. The Sunday night spot included an interview with Jeremy Stoppelman, co-founder of Yelp, which he said "would have no shot" if it were being built today.
Android

The Verge Goes Hands-On With the 'Wildly Ambitious' RED Hydrogen One Smartphone (theverge.com) 52

It's been almost a year since RED, a company known for its high-end $10,000+ cameras, teased a smartphone called the RED Hydrogen One. Several months have passed since the phone was announced and we still don't know much about it, aside from it having a very industrial design and "Hydrogen holographic display." Earlier this week, AT&T and Verizon confirmed that they'll launch the device later this year. Now, The Verge's Dieter Bohn has shared his hands-on impressions with the device, which he claims to be "one of the most ambitious smartphones in years from a company not named Apple, Google, or Samsung." Here's an excerpt from the report: The company better known for high-end 4K cameras with names like "Weapon" and "Epic-w" isn't entering the smartphone game simply to sell you a better Android phone. No, this phone is meant to be one piece of a modular system of cameras and other media creation equipment -- the company claims it will be "the foundation of a future multi-dimensional media system." To that end, it has a big set of pogo-pins on the back to connect it to RED's other cameras also to allow users to attach (forthcoming) modules to it, including lens mounts. If it were just a modular smartphone, we'd be talking about whether we really expected the company to produce enough modules to support it.

RED is planning on starting with a module that is essentially a huge camera sensor -- the company is not ready to give exact details, but the plan is definitely more towards DSLR size than smartphone size. Then, according to CEO Jim Jannard, the company wants any traditional big camera lens to be attached to it. Answering a fan question, he joked that support for lenses will be "pretty limited," working "just" with Fuji, Canon, Nikon, Leica, and more. [...] The processor inside will be a slightly-out-of-date Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, but it seemed fast enough in the few demos I was able to try. Honestly, though, if you're looking to get this thing just as a phone, you're probably making your decision based on the wrong metrics. It's probably going to be a perfectly capable phone, but at this price (starting at $1,195) what you're buying into is the module ecosystem.

Software

Popular 'Gboard' Keyboard App Has Had a Broken Spell Checker For Months 54

The popular Gboard keyboard app for iOS and Android devices has a fundamental flaw. According Reddit user SurroundedByMachines, the red underline has stopped appearing for incorrectly spelled words since November of last year -- and it doesn't appear to be limited to any one device. Issues with the spell checker have been reported on multiple devices across Android and iOS. A simple Google search brings up several different threads where people have reported issues with the feature.

What's more is that nobody at Google seems to get the memo. The Reddit user who first brought this to our attention filed several bug reports, left a review, and joined the beta channel to leave feedback there, yet no response was given. "Many people have been having the issue, and it's even been escalated to the community manager," writes SurroundedByMachines. Since the app has over 500 million downloads on the Play Store alone, this issue could be frustrating a lot of users, especially those who use their phones to send work emails or write documents. Have you noticed Gboard's broken spell checker on your device? If so, you may want to look into another third-party keyboard, such as SwiftKey or Cheetah Keyboard.
AI

Did Google's Duplex Testing Break the Law? (daringfireball.net) 73

An anonymous reader writes: Tech blogger John Gruber appears to have successfully identified one of the restaurants mentioned in a post on Google's AI blog that bragged about "a meal booked through a call from Duplex." Mashable then asked a restaurant employee there if Google had let him know in advance that they'd be receiving a call from their non-human personal assistant AI. "No, of course no," he replied. And "When I asked him to confirm one more time that Duplex had called...he appeared to get nervous and immediately said he needed to go. He then hung up the phone."

John Gruber now asks: "How many real-world businesses has Google Duplex been calling and not identifying itself as an AI, leaving people to think they're actually speaking to another human...? And if 'Victor' is correct that Hong's Gourmet had no advance knowledge of the call, Google may have violated California law by recording the call." Friday he added that "This wouldn't send anyone to prison, but it would be a bit of an embarrassment, and would reinforce the notion that Google has a cavalier stance on privacy (and adhering to privacy laws)."

The Mercury News also reports that legal experts "raised questions about how Google's possible need to record Duplex's phone conversations to improve its artificial intelligence may come in conflict with California's strict two-party consent law, where all parties involved in a private phone conversation need to agree to being recorded."

For another perspective, Gizmodo's senior reviews editor reminds readers that "pretty much all tech demos are fake as hell." Speaking of Google's controversial Duplex demo, she writes that "If it didn't happen, if it is all a lie, well then I'll be totally disappointed. But I can't say I'll be surprised."
Privacy

'I Asked Apple for All My Data. Here's What Was Sent Back' (zdnet.com) 171

"I asked Apple to give me all the data it's collected on me since I first became a customer in 2010," writes the security editor for ZDNet, "with the purchase of my first iPhone." That was nearly a decade ago. As most tech companies have grown in size, they began collecting more and more data on users and customers -- even on non-users and non-customers... Apple took a little over a week to send me all the data it's collected on me, amounting to almost two dozen Excel spreadsheets at just 5MB in total -- roughly the equivalent of a high-quality photo snapped on my iPhone. Facebook, Google, and Twitter all took a few minutes to an hour to send me all the data they store on me -- ranging from a few hundred megabytes to a couple of gigabytes in size...

The zip file contained mostly Excel spreadsheets, packed with information that Apple stores about me. None of the files contained content information -- like text messages and photos -- but they do contain metadata, like when and who I messaged or called on FaceTime. Apple says that any data information it collects on you is yours to have if you want it, but as of yet, it doesn't turn over your content which is largely stored on your slew of Apple devices. That's set to change later this year... And, of the data it collects to power Siri, Maps, and News, it does so anonymously -- Apple can't attribute that data to the device owner... One spreadsheet -- handily -- contained explanations for all the data fields, which we've uploaded here...

[T]here's really not much to it. As insightful as it was, Apple's treasure trove of my personal data is a drop in the ocean to what social networks or search giants have on me, because Apple is primarily a hardware maker and not ad-driven, like Facebook and Google, which use your data to pitch you ads.

CNET explains how to request your own data from Apple.
Google

Google Removes 'Don't Be Evil' Clause From Its Code of Conduct (gizmodo.com) 162

Kate Conger, reporting for Gizmodo: Google's unofficial motto has long been the simple phrase "don't be evil." But that's over, according to the code of conduct that Google distributes to its employees. The phrase was removed sometime in late April or early May, archives hosted by the Wayback Machine show.

"Don't be evil" has been part of the company's corporate code of conduct since 2000. When Google was reorganized under a new parent company, Alphabet, in 2015, Alphabet assumed a slightly adjusted version of the motto, "do the right thing." However, Google retained its original "don't be evil" language until the past several weeks. The phrase has been deeply incorporated into Google's company culture -- so much so that a version of the phrase has served as the wifi password on the shuttles that Google uses to ferry its employees to its Mountain View headquarters, sources told Gizmodo.

Security

RedDawn Android Malware Is Harvesting Personal Data of North Korean Defectors (theinquirer.net) 21

According to security company McAfee, North Korea uploaded three spying apps to the Google Play Store in January that contained hidden functions designed to steal personal photos, contact lists, text messages, and device information from the phones they were installed on. "Two of the apps purported to be security utilities, while a third provided information about food ingredients," reports The Inquirer. All three of the apps were part of a campaign dubbed "RedDawn" and targeted primarily North Korean defectors. From the report: The apps were promoted to particular targets via Facebook, McAfee claims. However, it adds that the malware was not the work of the well-known Lazarus Group, but another North Korean hacking outfit that has been dubbed Sun Team. The apps were called Food Ingredients Info, Fast AppLock and AppLockFree. "Food Ingredients Info and Fast AppLock secretly steal device information and receive commands and additional executable (.dex) files from a cloud control server. We believe that these apps are multi-staged, with several components."

"AppLockFree is part of the reconnaissance stage, we believe, setting the foundation for the next stage unlike the other two apps. The malwares were spread to friends, asking them to install the apps and offer feedback via a Facebook account with a fake profile promoted Food Ingredients Info," according to McAfee security researcher Jaewon Min. "After infecting a device, the malware uses Dropbox and Yandex to upload data and issue commands, including additional plug-in dex files; this is a similar tactic to earlier Sun Team attacks. From these cloud storage sites, we found information logs from the same test Android devices that Sun Team used for the malware campaign we reported in January. The logs had a similar format and used the same abbreviations for fields as in other Sun Team logs. Furthermore, the email addresses of the new malware's developer are identical to the earlier email addresses associated with the Sun Team."

AI

Google's Duplex AI Robot Will Warn That Calls Are Recorded (bloomberg.com) 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: On Thursday, the Alphabet Inc. unit shared more details on how the Duplex robot-calling feature will operate when it's released publicly, according to people familiar with the discussion. Duplex is an extension of the company's voice-based digital assistant that automatically phones local businesses and speaks with workers there to book appointments. At Google's weekly TGIF staff meeting on Thursday, executives gave employees their first full Duplex demo and told them the bot would identify itself as the Google assistant. It will also inform people on the phone that the line is being recorded in certain jurisdictions, the people said.
Google

Google Is Making An AR Headset With New Qualcomm Chips (theverge.com) 11

Google is reportedly working on a standalone augmented reality headset that will use new Qualcomm chips. "It will be built by Taiwanese computer maker Quanta," reports The Verge. "The project is still in its early stages, according to documents obtained by WinFuture." From the report: The AR headset is supposed to be similar to Microsoft's HoloLens, a headset that came out in 2016 and is aimed at design, training, and industrial use. The Google AR headset that's in development will reportedly be self-contained and powered by a Qualcomm chip, rather than tethered to another device. It will also include cameras and microphones. The headset is currently going by the name "Google A65." There's no release date yet for the Google A65 as it's still in the prototype stage, according to WinFuture. The headset won't only operate like a HoloLens, but it will use the same chips. HoloLens is rumored to be getting an update this year, with a new ARM-powered design and an improved field of view. The Qualcomm chips that will reportedly be used in both the new HoloLens and the new Google headset are the Qualcomm QSC603 four-core chips, based on ARM architecture.
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.

Chrome

Google Chrome To Remove 'Secure' Indicator From HTTPS Pages in September (bleepingcomputer.com) 101

Google announced Thursday it plans to drop the "Secure" indicator from the Chrome URL address bar -- starting with Chrome v68, set for release in July -- and only show a lock icon when the user is navigating to an HTTPS-secured website. From a report: The move is scheduled to take effect with the release of Chrome 69, scheduled for September, this year. Emily Schechter, Product Manager for Chrome Security, said the company is now comfortable making this move as a large chunk of Chrome's traffic is now via HTTPS. Since most traffic is HTTPS anyway, it's not necessary to draw the user's attention to the "Secure" indicator anymore.
Google

Google Won't Confirm If Its Human-Like AI Actually Called a Salon To Make an Appointment As Demoed at I/O (axios.com) 95

The headline demo at Google's I/O conference earlier this month continues to be a talking point in the industry. The remarkable demo, which saw Google Assistant call a salon to successfully fix an appointment, continues to draw skepticism. News outlet Axios followed up with Google to get some clarifications only to find that the company did not wish to talk about it. From the report: What's suspicious? When you call a business, the person picking up the phone almost always identifies the business itself (and sometimes gives their own name as well). But that didn't happen when the Google assistant called these "real" businesses. Axios called over two dozen hair salons and restaurants -- including some in Google's hometown of Mountain View -- and every one immediately gave the business name.

Axios asked Google for the name of the hair salon or restaurant, in order to verify both that the businesses exist and that the calls were not pre-planned. We also said that we'd guarantee, in writing, not to publicly identify either establishment (so as to prevent them from receiving unwanted attention). A longtime Google spokeswoman declined to provide either name.

We also asked if either call was edited, even perhaps just cutting the second or two when the business identifies itself. And, if so, were there other edits? The spokeswoman declined comment, but said she'd check and get back to us. She didn't.

Google

Google Says India Anti-Trust Ruling Could Cause 'Irreparable Harm' and Reputational Loss to the Company (reuters.com) 53

Google has said an Indian antitrust ruling that found it was guilty of search bias could cause "irreparable" harm and reputational loss to the company, Reuters reported Thursday, citing a legal document. From the report: The Competition Commission of India (CCI) in February fined Google $20 million for abusing its position in online web search and also slammed the company for preventing its partners from using competing search services. After the ruling, Google had said the verdict raised only "narrow concerns," but in its plea challenging the CCI's ruling the search giant signaled the impact could be far greater. The order, the company said, "requires Google to change the way it conducts business in India on a lasting basis and the way it designs its search results page in India," according to a copy of its plea which was seen exclusively by Reuters. The CCI, among other things, had ordered Google to stop imposing restrictions on its direct search agreements with other publishers.
Google

Google's Selfish Ledger is an Unsettling Vision of Silicon Valley Social Engineering (theverge.com) 252

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google has built a multibillion-dollar business out of knowing everything about its users. Now, a video produced within Google and obtained by The Verge offers a stunningly ambitious and unsettling look at how some at the company envision using that information in the future. The video was made in late 2016 by Nick Foster, the head of design at X (formerly Google X), and shared internally within Google. It imagines a future of total data collection, where Google helps nudge users into alignment with their goals, custom-prints personalized devices to collect more data, and even guides the behavior of entire populations to solve global problems like poverty and disease.
Music

YouTube Unveils New Streaming Service 'YouTube Music,' Rebrands YouTube Red (gizmodo.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: YouTube Music, a streaming music platform designed to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, officially has a launch date: May 22nd. Its existence will also shift around YouTube and Google's overall media strategy, which has thus far been quite the mess. YouTube Music will borrow the Spotify model and offer a free, ad-supported tier as well as a premium version. The paid tier, which will be called YouTube Music Premium, will be available for $9.99 per month. It will debut in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and South Korea before expanding to 14 other countries.

One of the selling points for YouTube Music will be the ability to harness the endless amount of information Google knows about you, which it will use to try to create customized listening experiences. Pitchfork reported that the app, with the help of Google Assistant, will make listening recommendations based on the time of day, location, and listening patterns. It will also apparently offer "an audio experience and a video experience," suggesting perhaps an emphasis on music videos and other visual content. From here, Google seems to be focused on making its streaming strategy a little less wacky. Google Play Music, the company's previous music streaming service that is still inexplicably up and running despite teetering on the brink of extinction for years, will slowly be phased out according to USA Today.
Meanwhile, the paid streaming subscription service, known as YouTube Red, is being rebranded to YouTube Premium and will cost $11.99 per month instead of $9.99. (Pitchfork notes that existing YouTube Red subscribers will be able to keep their $9.99 rate.) YouTube Premium will include access to YouTube Music Premium. Here's a handy-dandy chart that helps show what is/isn't included in the two plans.
Google

Google Fixes Issue That Broke Millions of Web-Based Games in Chrome (bleepingcomputer.com) 37

Google this week rolled out an update to Chrome to patch a bug that had rendered millions of web-based games useless. From a report: The bug was introduced in mid-April when Google launched Chrome 66. One of this release's features was its ability to block web pages with auto-playing audio. [...] Not all games were affected the same. For some HTML5 games, users could re-enable audio by interacting with the game's canvas via a click-to-play interaction. Unfortunately, older games and those that weren't coded with such policy remained irrevocably broken, no matter what Chrome options users tried to modify in their settings sections. [...] With today's release of Chrome for Desktop v66.0.3359.181, Google has now fixed this issue, but only temporarily. John Pallett, a product manager at Google, admitted that Google "didn't do a good job of communicating the impact of the new autoplay policy to developers using the Web Audio API." He said, for this reason, the current version of Chrome, v66, will no longer automatically mute Web Audio objects.

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