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FTC warns console and smartphone makers against limiting consumer warranties

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The Federal Trade Commission warned six companies today that their warranty policies could be in violation of the law. Although we don’t know the identities of these companies, the FTC does note that they’re “major companies” that sell cars, cellphones, and video game systems. The companies currently claim their warranties are void if owners use them with unauthorized parts or services or if consumers open them up by removing a seal.

Companies can’t put warranty stickers on their products and claim the warranty is void if you remove the sticker, the FTC says. They also can’t void a warranty if you fix devices yourself or through a third-party service. This has been a contentious issue for consumer electronics, where it’s often hard to get repairs done through a third party. Apple, for instance, recently said that third-party screen repairs would void an iPhone’s warranty. It changed its policy in February so that those phones are eligible for partial warranty coverage.

The FTC warning states that language like “this warranty shall not apply if this product ... is used with products not sold” and requiring warranty stickers to maintain a warranty are all illegal. The commission requests that each of the six companies review their warranty materials and correct their policies within 30 days. If they don’t comply, “potential violations may result in law enforcement action.”

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zipcube
12 days ago
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China busts iPhone smugglers who used drones to get them into Shenzhen

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China customs officials have taken down smugglers who used drones to carry iPhones from Hong Kong into Shenzhen. They managed to transport 500 million yuan ($79.8 million) worth of refurbished iPhones before the operation was busted, according to Reuters.

Under the cover of dark, the group of 26 used the unspecified drones to “fly two 200-meter (660-feet) cables between Hong Kong and the mainland.” From there, they loaded around 10 iPhones into small bags and sent each across the cable system. The smugglers could move up to 15,000 iPhones each night, so they managed to get things running pretty efficiently.

The local, state-owned Legal Daily reported this to be “the first case found in China that drones were being used in cross-border smuggling crimes.” As a result, Shenzhen customs plans to keep a close eye on this high-tech smuggling — perhaps using its own drones to help combat illegal cross-border activity.

Last year, China implemented a policy requiring owners of civilian drones over a given weight to register their flying gadgets using their real names. As is the case in the US and elsewhere, China has experienced its share of drone incidents, leading to delayed or disrupted flights. In the United States, drone owners must register any device over 0.55 pounds.

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zipcube
12 days ago
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UK companies and residents will be stripped of .EU domains after Brexit

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The latest casualty in the UK’s impending departure from the European Union? Domain names ending with .eu.

As spotted by The Register, the European Commission announced on Thursday that after Brexit, any and all UK citizens and companies will be barred from owning .eu domain names. In a letter to stakeholders, the Commission, which is the legislative body of the EU, said: “As of the withdrawal date, undertakings and organizations that are established in the United Kingdom but not in the EU and natural persons who reside in the United Kingdom will no longer be eligible to register [or renew] .eu domain names.”

Exactly when these domain names will be taken away isn’t clear, but the Commission suggests it could happen on the date of Brexit itself, currently scheduled for March 30th, 2019. This won’t have a catastrophic impact (the .eu TLD never really took off in the UK) but will still affect the 317,000 or .eu domains estimated to be registered in the UK.

As The Register points out, what’s unusual here is the peremptory nature of the Commission’s ruling. There doesn’t seem to be any legal recourse for those affected, and no time window post-Brexit for domain owners to transfer sites. This is not the norm, as historically structural changes of this sort have been managed slowly. For example, the Soviet Union’s top-level domain .su was introduced in 1990 (just 15 months before the Union itself collapsed) and was soon replaced by the TLD .ru. But, Russia petitioned for .su to be kept running, and to date more than 100,000 sites using it are still live.

That was only the break-up of the Soviet Union, though, one of the most historically significant events of the 20th century. This is Brexit. This is personal.

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zipcube
12 days ago
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Federal Circuit sends Oracle v. Google back for third trial

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The Federal Circuit has ruled for a second time in Oracle v. Google, the software copyright lawsuit over Google’s Android platform. The new decision reverses the district court yet again and sends the case back for a third trial to determine damages for Oracle. In the last trial, Oracle sought almost $9 billion in damages.

The litigation has been dragging on for about eight years now, bouncing up and down through appeals and two whole jury trials. It all started because Google wanted to make the Android platform compatible with apps written in the Java language. Rather than license the Java platform from Sun Microsystems, which would allow programs written in Java to run, Google instead chose to write its own version (also known as a clean room implementation). However, because of the way that code works, Android still shared some similarities with the Java platform.

Shortly after acquiring Sun Microsystems in 2010, Oracle sued Google. Google won on all claims in 2012. Oracle appealed a copyright claim to the Federal Circuit and came back with a reversal in its favor in 2014. After the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, a second trial commenced.

In 2016, the second jury found that Google’s use of the structure, sequence, and organization of 37 Java APIs was a fair use. Oracle asked for a judgment as a matter of law — that is, for the judge to toss out the freshly entered jury verdict, rule in favor of Oracle, and start a new trial for damages. The judge, who had at this point been presiding over this case for, like, six years, chose not to.

Today, the Federal Circuit ruled that he was wrong and that Oracle should get Trial #3.

Here are some fun facts about this lawsuit:

  • In 2014, the Federal Circuit sent the case back for another jury trial to determine fair use. A second jury was only ever seated because the Federal Circuit said so.
  • Today, the Federal Circuit said that, as a matter of law, no jury could find fair use. So there shouldn’t have been a jury trial on fair use in the first place?
  • ....
  • The Federal Circuit is a specialty appellate court that, among other things, handles appeals in patent cases.
  • This is a copyright case.
  • There used to be patents involved in this case. That’s why it went up to the Federal Circuit.
  • The Federal Circuit has not involved itself in any of the patents in this lawsuit.
  • Actually, there haven’t been any patents at issue for six years.
  • Because copyright is not its thing, the Federal Circuit is supposed to apply the law of the Ninth Circuit (where California is located) when it comes to copyright.
  • But the Ninth Circuit doesn’t get to decide a copyright case where Ninth Circuit copyright law applies?
  • Don’t even get me started on the part where a Ninth Circuit ruling about Bikram yoga could be relevant to this case.
  • The judge that the Federal Circuit overturned, for a second time, is Judge Alsup, who has been coding in BASIC since the 1980s and learned some Java for this lawsuit.
  • The United States legal system is supposed to treat jury verdicts with great deference.
  • By all accounts, the Supreme Court came pretty close to hearing Oracle v. Google in 2015. However, the Solicitor General’s office — after a long, multi-agency debate inside the federal government — advised against it.
  • There is now a new Solicitor General, a new Librarian of Congress, a new acting head of the Copyright Office, a new US Patent and Trademark Office head, and one new Supreme Court justice.
  • I think I’m going to die before this lawsuit wraps up.
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zipcube
12 days ago
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Man Charged Over Swatting Death Allegedly Calls Self 'eGod,' Tweets Swat Threat From Jail

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Tyler Barris is being held by police on charges of involuntary manslaughter after he allegedly placed a phony emergency call that resulted in the death of another man. But Barris reportedly managed to get access to the internet and proceeded to hop on Twitter threatening to “swat” again and proclaiming himself an…

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zipcube
12 days ago
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US spy lab hopes to geotag every outdoor photo on social media

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Enlarge / Take a selfie in front of your new hideout? IARPA's Finder program aims to turn that photo into a kaboom. (credit: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jacob Krone)

Imagine if someone could scan every image on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, then instantly determine where each was taken. The ability to combine this location data with information about who appears in those photos—and any social media contacts tied to them—would make it possible for government agencies to quickly track terrorist groups posting propaganda photos. (And, really, just about anyone else.)

That's precisely the goal of Finder, a research program of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's dedicated research organization.

For many photos taken with smartphones (and with some consumer cameras), geolocation information is saved with the image by default. The location is stored in the Exif (Exchangable Image File Format) data of the photo itself unless geolocation services are turned off. If you have used Apple's iCloud photo store or Google Photos, you've probably created a rich map of your pattern of life through geotagged metadata. However, this location data is pruned off for privacy reasons when images are uploaded to some social media services, and privacy-conscious photographers (particularly those concerned about potential drone strikes) will purposely disable geotagging on their devices and social media accounts.

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zipcube
13 days ago
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