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Uber and Lyft return to Austin after Texas law kills the city’s fingerprint rule

Ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft, which left Texas’ tech-savvy capital city a year ago over local fingerprint requirements for drivers, have returned after state lawmakers intervened.

Both companies began rolling on Austin’s streets again Monday, when Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that puts the state — not local governments — in charge of regulating the ride-hailing industry.

Local leaders in Austin, the conservative state’s most liberal city, argued unsuccessfully that its tech-driven economy was uniquely positioned to launch capable alternatives that could fill the gap.

“Austin is an incubator for technology and entrepreneurship, and we are excited to be back in the mix,” Uber spokesman Travis Considine said Thursday. “ We know that we have a lot of work to do in the city, but we couldn’t be more excited for the road ahead.”

Uber and Lyft — which are both based in San Francisco — fled Austin after losing a bruising and expensive fight to replace an Austin ordinance that required fingerprint-based background checks of drivers, a variety of data reporting and other requirements.

Advocates for fingerprinting say it’s the best way to weed out drivers with criminal records. Uber and Lyft have argued their background checks suffice and that fingerprint databases can be out of date. Fingerprinting can also slow down the process of adding new drivers.  Read More

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Twitter says it’s cracking down on abuse (again)

Fairly or not, Twitter is known the Internet over as the place the trolls are.

Stung by criticism that Twitter has allowed harassment and abuse to spread unchecked and under growing pressure from Wall Street to deliver growth, CEO Jack Dorsey has pledged “a completely new approach to abuse.” Twitter’s vice president of engineering Ed Ho said last week the company will keep working on combating abuse “until we’ve made a significant impact that people can feel.”

The pledges have been met with skepticism from critics. Twitter is out to prove that it’s taking safety on the platform seriously with a new set of updates that begin rolling out Tuesday. The changes will give users more control over what they see on the social media service, Twitter says.

Chief among them: preventing people who have been permanently suspended from Twitter from creating new accounts, focusing in particular on accounts that are created “only to abuse and harass others,” Ho said in a blog post.  Read More

Google backs away from human-looking robots

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Finally, Google’ s big robot strategy is coming in to focus.

It is…wait for it…nothing.

On Thursday, St. Patrick’s Day, to be more precise, our collective robotic good luck ran out as Google, according to a Bloomberg report, puts its flagship robot maker, Boston Dynamics, up for sale.

The news comes just weeks after Google and Boston Dynamics accomplished a near unheard-of feat: they made us feel for a robot.

Jerk human beats up Boston Dynamics robot read the Mashable’s headline and it was not the exception, Most of the media covered the video showing a bipedal robot enduring a stress-test of sorts with a similar level of concern for the robot’s well-being. When I saw it, I thought, “Nice job Google, you made us empathize with a robot that would normally play a starring role in our nightmares.”

Now, I realize that that remarkable video was likely an unsanctioned hail-Mary pass by the Boston Dynamics team: something to dazzle the public and remind Google why they bought it in the first place.

Alphabet was clearly unmoved. Alphabet is Google’s parent company and the home of Google X, which is where, ostensibly, experimental pursuits like robotics are housed.  Read More

Sony Drops A Bomb: Playstation VR Will Be $399

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Playstation VR just established itself as the mass market VR headset to beat. The headset will hit the market in in October 2016 for $399, $200 lower than competitor Oculus Rift and less than half of the $800 HTC HTCCY +% Vive. That means anyone looking to get into VR can do so for just $800, a far cry from the $1500+ required for Oculus Rift. You’ve got to add $50 for the Playstation Camera, and the price does not include the Playstation move controllers used for some games. Sony , as it’s proven, has a knack for unbundling to achieve the impact of a low price point. Still, there are already 36 million VR-ready PS4s in living rooms across the world, and that’s a powerful potential install base.

We’ve been here before: at E3 2013, Sony dropped a bomb on the Xbox One with that very same $400 price point, cementing a position at the head of the console war that it still holds today. The implication of this price is huge: it means that Sony is fully poised to bring VR to millions of consumers in October. WE can expect an actual release date at E3, along with the final suite of launch titles. judging by the montage the company showed before the announcement, there’s going to be plenty to play.

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive may have better specs than Playstation Vr, but it would be unwise to overlook the advantage developers on PS4 gain by working with a fixed system. I’ve seen a while lot of demos on both Oculus and PSVR, and both have felt fairly comparable in terms of the VR experience. As with a lot of these things, it all comes down to the software, and Sony stands to do pretty well in that department as well.  Read More

Alphabet may ditch Boston Dynamics and its robot dreams

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Frustrated with Boston Dynamics’ slow pace in building a marketable product, Google’s parent company Alphabet is apparently looking to unload robotics pioneer Boston Dynamics, which it acquired a little more than two years ago.

Alphabet is cutting its losses and looking to unload the company, according to a Bloomberg report. The company is known for its four-legged Big Dog and aslow-moving humanoid robot that became a video sensation.

Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg also reported that Toyota Research Institute, a division of Toyota Motor Corp., and Amazon.com, which uses robots in its warehouses, are potential buyers.  Read More

Apple Actively Working to ‘Double Down’ on iCloud Encryption

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Apple is working to further harden iCloud security so that even it won’t be able to access user information stored on its data servers, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

According to yesterday’s report, which cites “people familiar with the matter”, Apple executives are actively considering how to bolster iCloud encryption without inconveniencing users.

Currently, encrypted data kept on the cloud service is accessible by Apple using a key, which is used for restoring account information if, for example, a user forgets their password. Apple’s access also allows the company to provide relevant information it has to law enforcement agencies that approach it with proper, legal requests.

However, Apple appears to be concerned that keeping a copy of the key means it could be compromised by hackers or that the company could be legally compelled to turn it over to governments.

The news contrasts with a report earlier this month suggesting that Apple viewed privacy and security issues differently between physical devices that can be lost and its iCloud service.

However, according to The Wall Street Journal, an Apple spokesperson pointed to comments made by senior VP of software engineering Craig Federighi in reference to the company’s fresh concerns. “Security is an endless race—one that you can lead but never decisively win,” he wrote in a March 6 opinion piece in The Washington Post. “Yesterday’s best defenses cannot fend off the attacks of today or tomorrow.”  Read More

Apple says San Bernardino iPhone case is ‘unprecedented,’ cannot be decided in a vacuum

Apple’s crack legal team, led by Theodore Boutrous, Jr. and Ted Olson, in today’s response (via Christina Warren) reassert many of the same arguments posed in an initial response to the California court order, specifically limitations to the All Writs Act and potential infringement of Apple’s First Amendment rights. The case, Apple says, is not about “one iPhone,” but rather precedent for compelling private companies to hand over customer data at the behest of law enforcement officials.

“It has become crystal clear that this case is not about a ‘modest’ order and a ‘single iPhone,’ as the FBI director himself admitted when testifying before Congress two weeks ago,” the filing reads. “Instead, this case hinges on a contentious policy issue about how society should weigh what law enforcement officials want against the widespread repercussions and serious risks their demands would create.”

Apple references a recent congressional hearing on encryption attended by FBI Director James Comey, Apple’s lead counsel Bruce Sewell and other associated parties. Comey at the hearing said he would “of course” leverage any precedent set in the California case to unlock iPhones in other   Read More

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