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Facial Recognition is Making Its Way To Cruise Ships

On May 14, San Francisco became the first US city to ban police and government agencies from using facial recognition. On May 22, Amazon shareholders will vote on whether to restrict the company's sale of its own facial recognition software. But at cruise operator Royal Caribbean, facial recognition still has plenty of potential. From a report: Like some airlines, Royal Caribbean has started to roll out facial recognition and other technologies to streamline its boarding process. The company's SVP of digital, Jay Schneider, tells Quartz that the typical wait time to board is 10 minutes with a mobile boarding pass; less if the passenger opts into facial recognition by uploading a "security selfie." Before those additions, he says the typical wait time was around 90 minutes. "We wanted it to be a welcoming experience, such that the agent knows who you are when you're getting there," Schneider says, adding that the company wants to turn facial recognition "not into a stop and frisk moment, but into a way to welcome you on vacation, answer any questions, and let me just get you on your way." As people churn through the line faster with mobile boarding passes and facial recognition, the rest of the line benefits as well -- that 90-minute wait will average more like 20 minutes for even those passengers boarding the old-fashioned way. Schneider says Royal Caribbean deletes security selfies at the end of each trip, to avoid storing data any longer than necessary. Royal Caribbean has also rolled out mobile boarding to board its crew members; Schneider says the technology saves the company 50,000 crew hours each year.

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Posted on 22 May 2019 | 4:47 pm

Indonesia Restricts WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram Usage Following Deadly Riots

Indonesia is the latest nation to hit the hammer on social media after the government restricted the use of WhatsApp and Instagram following deadly riots yesterday. From a report: Numerous Indonesia-based users are today reporting difficulties sending multimedia messages via WhatsApp, which is one of the country's most popular chat apps, and posting content to Facebook, while the hashtag #instagramdown is trending among the country's Twitter users due to problems accessing the Facebook-owned photo app. Wiranto, a coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, confirmed in a press conference that the government is limiting access to social media and "deactivating certain features" to maintain calm, according to a report from Coconuts. Rudiantara, the communications minister of Indonesia and a critic of Facebook, explained that users "will experience lag on Whatsapp if you upload videos and photos." Facebook -- which operates both WhatsApp and Instagram -- didn't explicitly confirm the blockages , but said it has been in communication with the Indonesian government.

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Posted on 22 May 2019 | 4:08 pm

EPA Plans To Get Thousands of Pollution Deaths Off the Books by Changing Its Math

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it calculates the health risks of air pollution, a shift that would make it easier to roll back a key climate change rule because it would result in far fewer predicted deaths from pollution, New York Times reported this week, citing five people with knowledge of the agency's plans. From the report: The E.P.A. had originally forecast that eliminating the Obama-era rule, the Clean Power Plan, and replacing it with a new measure would have resulted in an additional 1,400 premature deaths per year. The new analytical model would significantly reduce that number and would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules if it is formally adopted. The proposed shift is the latest example of the Trump administration downgrading the estimates of environmental harm from pollution in regulations. In this case, the proposed methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. Many experts said that approach was not scientifically sound and that, in the real world, there are no safe levels of the fine particulate pollution associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

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Posted on 22 May 2019 | 3:30 pm

US Judge Says Qualcomm Violated Antitrust Law

Qualcomm illegally suppressed competition in the market for smartphone chips by threatening to cut off supplies and extracting excessive licensing fees, a U.S. judge ruled, a decision that could force the company to overhaul its business practices. From a report: The decision issued late Tuesday night by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, caused Qualcomm shares to plunge 9.5 percent in early trading on Wednesday. "Qualcomm's licensing practices have strangled competition" in parts of the chip market for years, harming rivals, smartphone makers, and consumers, Koh wrote in a 233-page decision. She ordered the San Diego-based company to renegotiate licensing agreements at reasonable prices, without threatening to cut off supplies, and ordered that it be monitored for seven years to ensure its compliance. Qualcomm said it will immediately ask Koh to put her decision on hold, and also seek a quick appeal to the federal appeals court in California. "We strongly disagree with the judge's conclusions, her interpretation of the facts and her application of the law," general counsel Don Rosenberg said in a statement.

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Posted on 22 May 2019 | 2:48 pm

ARM Memo Tells Staff To Stop Working With Huawei

UK-based chip designer ARM has told staff it must suspend business with Huawei, according to internal documents obtained by the BBC. ARM instructed employees to halt "all active contracts, support entitlements, and any pending engagementsâ with Huawei and its subsidiaries to comply with a recent US trade clampdown. From a report: ARM's designs form the basis of most mobile device processors worldwide. In a company memo, it said its designs contained "US origin technology." As a consequence, it believes it is affected by the Trump administration's ban. One analyst described the move, if it became long-term, as an "insurmountable" blow to Huawei's business. He said it would greatly affect the firm's ability to develop its own chips, many of which are currently built with ARM's underlying technology, for which it pays a licence.

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Posted on 22 May 2019 | 2:01 pm

Trump Administration Considers Banning Another Major Chinese Firm

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: The U.S. administration is considering limits to Chinese video surveillance firm Hikvision's ability to buy U.S. technology, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, in a move that deepens worries about trade frictions between the world's two top economies. The move would effectively place Hikvision on a U.S. blacklist and U.S. companies may have to obtain government approval to supply components to Hikvision, the paper said. The U.S. Commerce Department blocked Huawei Technologies from buying U.S. goods last week, effectively banning U.S. companies from doing business with the Chinese firm, a major escalation in the trade war, saying Huawei was involved in activities contrary to national security. Hikvision and Dahua Technology which produce audio-visual equipment that can be used for surveillance were specifically cited in a letter to Trump's top advisers last month, signed by more than 40 lawmakers. The lawmakers said China's actions in its western region of Xinjiang "may constitute crimes against humanity" and urged tighter U.S. export controls to ensure that U.S. companies are not assisting the Chinese government's crackdown there. The issue stems around the facilities in China that "U.N. experts describe as mass detention centers holding more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims," reports CNBC. "Beijing has said its measures in Xinjiang, which are also reported to include widespread surveillance of the population, are aimed at stemming the threat of Islamist militancy. The facilities or camps that have opened are vocational training centers, the government has said."

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Posted on 22 May 2019 | 1:00 pm

SpaceX's Starhopper Moves Closer To Its First Flight

SpaceX is planning to launch test flights of its Starhopper test vehicle to a height of up to 16,400 feet. "The short tests, which will take place out of SpaceX's launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, will send the rocket to just under 1,640 feet (500 meters) high for its low-altitude flights and up to 16,400 feet (5,000 meters) high for its high-altitude flights," reports The Verge, citing a modified application filed with the FCC. The heights match those that the company indicated in a similar filing last year. From the report: The Starhopper is a very basic version of Starship, the massive passenger rocket that SpaceX wants to build to send people to the Moon and Mars. In order to prepare for the first Starship's flight to space, SpaceX has been tinkering with the test Starhopper in Boca Chica. The vehicle boasts a similar structure to the final rocket, though it's slightly smaller in size. Starhopper's most important task is to test out the new, powerful Raptor engines that SpaceX has developed for the future deep-space rocket. SpaceX fired up a Raptor engine on the bottom of the Starhopper for the first time in April. It only lifted a few inches since the vehicle was tethered to the ground. But now, SpaceX plans to perform what are known as "hop" tests with the vehicle (hence the nickname Starhopper), which will send the rocket to a low altitude above the Earth. The company will then attempt to touch the Starhopper back down on the ground with the vehicle's three landing legs. The idea is to test out the landing capabilities the rocket's going to use to touch down on Earth and other worlds. SpaceX performed similar tests with a vehicle known as Grasshopper back in 2012 and 2013 to try out the landing technique its Falcon 9 rockets now use.

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Posted on 22 May 2019 | 10:00 am

Washington Becomes First State To Legalize Human Composting

Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation Tuesday making Washington the first state to approve composting as an alternative to burying or cremating human remains. The Associated Press reports: It allows licensed facilities to offer "natural organic reduction," which turns a body, mixed with substances such as wood chips and straw, into about two wheelbarrows' worth of soil in a span of several weeks. Loved ones are allowed to keep the soil to spread, just as they might spread the ashes of someone who has been cremated -- or even use it to plant vegetables or a tree. Supporters say the method is an environmentally friendly alternative to cremation, which releases carbon dioxide and particulates into the air, and conventional burial, in which people are drained of their blood, pumped full of formaldehyde and other chemicals that can pollute groundwater, and placed in a nearly indestructible coffin, taking up land. State law previously dictated that remains be disposed of by burial or cremation. The law, which takes effect in May 2020, added composting as well as alkaline hydrolysis, a process already legal in 19 other states. The latter uses heat, pressure, water and chemicals like lye to reduce remains.

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Posted on 22 May 2019 | 7:00 am

'Car Owners Should Control Data Collected By Cars'

Bill Hanvey, president and CEO of the Auto Care Association, argues that car owners (or lessees) should be the only ones who can control their car's data. "He or she should be aware of the data the car transmits, have control over it and determine who can see it," Hanvey writes. Many have argued this position for the privacy angle, but Harvey takes a different facet of this conversation, pointing out that carmakers control our data to limit where we get repairs or services done. If policymakers don't act on behalf of consumers, Hanvey writes, car and truck owners may be forced to go to select service centers for repairs, circumventing the more than 180,000 independent repair shops across the country that have all the tools needed to work on today's newest cars, but lack access to the necessary diagnostic information needed to complete the job. An anonymous reader shares the report: Because of the increasing complexity of cars and the Internet of Things, data is critical to repair and service. When carmakers control the data, they can choose which service centers receive our information. They're more likely to share our data exclusively with their branded dealerships than with independent repair shops, which could have the edge in price and convenience. However, independent repair shops currently make 70 percent of outside warranty repairs throughout the country. There are more than 180,000 independent repair shops across the country; most have all the tools needed to work on today's connected and complex cars, and most of today's highly trained service technicians can perform anything from basic tuneups to sophisticated electronic diagnostics. But without access to car data, they're working blindfolded, unable to see the diagnostic information they need. The solution is simple. The only person who should control car data is the car owner (or lessee). He or she should be aware of the data the car transmits, have control over it and determine who can see it. Digitization of the auto industry is, ultimately, a good thing. Today's connected cars are paving the way for autonomous vehicles and vehicle-to-vehicle communications, and eventually vehicle-to-infrastructure communications making our roads safer. But unlike Alexa and Nest, consumers are unaware of the degree to which their own car collects and processes data. It's clear, because of its value -- as high as $750 billion by 2030 -- carmakers have no incentive to release control of the data collected from our vehicles. Policymakers, however, have the opportunity to give drivers control -- not just so that they can keep their data private but also so that they can share it with the people they want to see it. This will let car owners maintain what they've had for a century: the right to decide who fixes their car.

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Posted on 22 May 2019 | 3:30 am

A Solution For Loneliness: Get Out and Volunteer, Research Suggests

"Loneliness is rampant, and it's killing us," writes Kasley Killam for Scientific American. "Anywhere from one quarter to one half of Americans feel lonely a lot of the time, which puts them at risk for developing a range of physical and mental illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression." Killam surfaces several studies that found volunteering to be an effective strategy to help combat this widespread health problem. From the report: In a recent survey of over 10,000 people in the UK, two-thirds reported that volunteering helped them feel less isolated. Similarly, a 2018 study of nearly 6,000 people across the US examined widows who, unsurprisingly, felt lonelier than married adults. After starting to volunteer for two or more hours per week, their average level of loneliness subsided to match that of married adults, even after controlling for demographics, baseline health, personality traits, and other social involvement. These benefits may be especially strong the older you are and the more often you volunteer. Participating in volunteer opportunities may help alleviate loneliness and its related health impact for several reasons. The first and most obvious is that it's a meaningful way to connect with others and make new friends. Second, volunteering can make up for the loss of meaning that commonly occurs with loneliness. Research using the UCLA Loneliness Scale and Meaning in Life Questionnaire has shown that more loneliness is associated with less meaning. This makes sense, given our deeply rooted need for belonging. By volunteering for social causes that are important to us, we can gain a sense of purpose, which in turn may shield us from negative health outcomes. For example, purpose in life has been linked to a reduced likelihood of stroke and greater psychological well-being. Third, loneliness and isolation can lead to cognitive decline, such as memory loss. But according to the neuroscientist Lisa Genova, people who regularly engage in mentally stimulating activities build up more neural connections and are subsequently more resilient to symptoms of Alzheimer's. So, volunteering is one way to stay engaged and stimulated, rather than isolated and lonely, and thereby protect against cognitive decline.

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Posted on 22 May 2019 | 2:02 am

Cable TV Customer Satisfaction Falls Even Further Behind Streaming Video

Netflix and other online video services have expanded their customer-satisfaction lead over cable and satellite TV, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) found in its annual telecommunications report released today. Ars Technica reports: Streaming-video services averaged a score of 76 on the ACSI's 100-point scale, up from 75 last year. Meanwhile, the traditional subscription-TV industry's score remained unchanged at 62. "For the past six years, customer satisfaction with subscription TV has languished in the mid-to-low 60s, not recovering enough to effectively compete with streaming services," the ACSI report said. "In 2018, subscription sales declined 3 percent to $103.4 billion. Customer service remains poor, and cord cutting is accelerating. As video-streaming services gain traction, a growing number of households may never subscribe to pay TV in the first place." Pay-TV and broadband -- two services that are generally offered in bundles by the same companies -- each posted an industry average of 62, which is again in "last place among all [46] industries tracked by the ACSI," the report said. Pay-TV's satisfaction score peaked at 68 in 2013 and has dropped steadily since. Streaming services rated significantly higher than cable and satellite in many categories, including the ease of understanding bills, mobile app quality and reliability, and call-center satisfaction. Comcast remained near the bottom of pay-TV rankings with a score of 57, while AT&T's U-verse led the ranking despite dropping from 70 to 69. Coincidentally, AT&T's streaming service -- DirecTV Now -- also fell from 70 to 69. But while the AT&T U-verse TV score of 69 was good enough to lead all cable and satellite TV providers, the DirecTV Now score of 69 was in second-to-last place among streaming providers. Netflix took the top spot in streaming satisfaction by raising its score from 78 to 79.

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Posted on 22 May 2019 | 1:20 am

Some New Chevrolet Models Temporarily Won't Move Until Teen Drivers Buckle Up

Chevrolet is introducing a feature, specifically for teen drivers, that will temporarily block the auto from shifting into gear if their seat belt isn't buckled. A message will alert the driver to buckle up in order to shift into gear. After 20 seconds, the vehicle will operate normally. NPR reports: The feature, which Chevrolet says is an industry first, will come standard in the 2020 models of the Traverse SUV, Malibu sedan and Colorado pickup truck. It will be part of the "Teen Driver" package, which can also be used to set speed alerts and a maximum speed, among other controls, and give parents "report cards" tracking a teen's driving behavior. Chevrolet explains how it works: "To use Teen Driver mode, a parent can enable the feature by creating a PIN in the Settings menu that allows them to register their teen's key fob. The Teen Driver settings are turned on only when a registered key fob is used to start the vehicle."

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Posted on 22 May 2019 | 12:40 am

New Proposal Would Let Companies Further Screw You Over With Terms of Service

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Vice: A collection of unelected lawyers [from the American Law Institute] this week is quietly pushing a new proposal that could dramatically erode your legal rights, leaving you at the mercy of giant corporations eager to protect themselves from accountability. Occasionally, this coalition (including all the members of the Supreme Court) meets to create "restatements," effectively an abridged synopsis or reference guide for the latest established precedents and legal trends. While restatements themselves aren't legally binding, they're very influential and often help shape judicial opinions. Seven years ago, the ALI began pondering a new restatement governing consumer contracts -- and your legal rights as a consumer. Today, the ALI meets to vote on the approval of this latest restatement. But a long line of legal experts have been blasting the group's updated language governing consumer contracts. Specifically, they noted that the updated draft language proclaims that consumers would not need to read a contract to be bound by its terms. The draft states as long as consumers received "reasonable notice" and had "reasonable opportunity to review" it, the contract would be legally binding. Under this model, consumers wouldn't need to even understand the contract to be bound by it, a problem given data suggests such agreements are often incomprehensible to the average user. The language was problematic enough to result in a letter this week by 23 state attorneys general, criticizing the ALI's proposal as a major threat to consumer rights. "To call boilerplate language that consumers never read (or if they did read, could not understand) a 'contract' simply has the effect of locking consumers in to terms that are likely to be stacked against them," John Bergmayer, Senior Counsel at consumer group Public Knowledge, said in an email. Traditionally, "contracts" are legal documents that are mutually agreed to after negotiation between two parties. Functionally, this isn't how Terms of Service, which few people read and few people can be expected to read and understand, work in the real world. "For some reason, everything you learn about contracts in the first year of law school gets tossed out the window when it comes to large companies unilaterally setting terms for consumers," Bergmayer added.

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Posted on 22 May 2019 | 12:03 am

Comcast Is Reportedly Developing a Device That Would Track Your Bathroom Habits

Comcast is reportedly working on a device designed to closely monitor a user's health. "The device will monitor people's basic health metrics using ambient sensors, with a focus on whether someone is making frequent trips to the bathroom or spending more time than usual in bed," reports CNBC. "Comcast is also building tools for detecting falls, which are common and potentially fatal for seniors." The Verge reports: Many products on the market today already have the motion sensors, cameras, and other hardware that allow for what Comcast seems to be envisioning -- but not even Amazon or Google have directly sought to keep such a close eye on their customers' personal health with their respective Echo and Home devices. Comcast itself already offers home security services, and the company's much-touted X1 voice remote for its Xfinity cable platform has helped Comcast make advancements in recognizing and processing voice commands. According to CNBC, Comcast's device won't offer functionality like controlling smart home devices, nor will it have the ability to search for answers to a person's questions on the internet. But it will reportedly "have a personality like Alexa" and be able to place calls to emergency services. In an email to The Verge, a Comcast spokesperson said the company's upcoming device "is NOT a smart speaker" and "is purpose-built to be a sensor that detects motion." It's said that Comcast aims to offer the device and a companion health tracking service to "at-risk people, including seniors and people with disabilities." The company is also in discussions with hospitals about potentially "using the device to ensure that patients don't end up back in the hospital after they've been discharged."

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Posted on 21 May 2019 | 11:20 pm

Microsoft Calls For Federal Regulation of the Tech Industry

In a blog post, Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Julie Brill says the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has been very effective in changing the way that tech companies handle personal data, and feels the U.S. should enact something similar at the federal level. TechSpot reports: "[Companies] have adapted, putting new systems and processes in place to ensure that individuals understand what data is collected about them and can correct it if it is inaccurate and delete it or move it somewhere else if they choose," she wrote. Brill points out that the GDPR has inspired other countries to adopt similar regulations. She also pats her company on the back for being "the first company to provide the data control rights at the heart of GDPR to our customers around the globe, not just in Europe." However, such self-regulation is not good enough. While some states such as California and Illinois have strong data protection laws in place, Brill feels the US needs something similar to the GDPR at the federal level. "No matter how much work companies like Microsoft do to help organizations secure sensitive data and empower individuals to manage their own data, preserving a strong right to privacy will always fundamentally be a matter of law that falls to governments," Brill states. "Despite the high level of interest in exercising control over personal data from U.S. consumers, the United States has yet to join the EU and other nations around the world in passing national legislation that accounts for how people use technology in their lives today." Brill suggests the federal government should enact regulation that models the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which goes into effect next year. "Brill says that consumers have the right to control their information and that companies need to be held to a higher degree of accountability and transparency with how they collect and use customer data," reports TechSpot. "The new laws also need to have teeth."

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Posted on 21 May 2019 | 10:40 pm