Comcast Does So Much Lobbying That It Says Disclosing It All Is Too Hard

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Comcast may be harming its reputation by failing to reveal all of its lobbying activities, including its involvement in trade associations and lobbying at the state level, a group of shareholders says in a proposal that asks for more lobbying disclosures. Comcast’s disclosures for its lobbying of state governments “are often cursory or non-existent,” and Comcast’s failure to disclose its involvement in trade associations means that “investors have neither an accurate picture of the company’s total lobbying expenditures nor an understanding of its priorities, interests, or potential risks from memberships,” the proposal said. “Comcast’s lack of transparency around its lobbying poses risks to its already troubled reputation, which is concerning in a highly regulated industry, especially given the rise of public Internet alternatives.”

The proposal is on the ballot for Comcast’s June 5 annual shareholder meeting and was filed by Friends Fiduciary, which “invest[s] based on Quaker values” and says it “actively screen[s] companies for social responsibility.” Friends Fiduciary and other investors who joined the proposal collectively hold “over 1 million shares of Comcast stock,” they said. The shareholder resolution would be non-binding even if it passed. It asks for an annual report disclosing, among other things, “Payments by Comcast used for (a) direct or indirect lobbying or (b) grassroots lobbying communications” and information on “Comcast’s membership in and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation.” Comcast’s board unanimously recommended that shareholders vote against the Friends Fiduciary resolution, saying that Comcast “already disclose[s] most of our government lobbying interactions” as required by law. “[O]ur Board believes that the requirements in this proposal are burdensome and an unproductive use of our resources and are not in the best interests of our shareholders,” Comcast said in a rebuttal included in its proxy statement.

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Source: Slashdot – Comcast Does So Much Lobbying That It Says Disclosing It All Is Too Hard

Facebook Removed 2.2 Billion Fake Accounts This Year

Facebook released its community standards enforcement report Thursday morning, offering a much more in-depth look at the inner workings of the company than previously seen. From a report: One of the most surprising insights came from Facebook’s removal of fake accounts. The company said it removed 2.2 billion accounts in the first quarter of the 2019. That’s a jump of nearly double compared to the fourth quarter of 2018 when 1.2 billion accounts were removed. That number seems astronomical, especially when considering that Facebook says it has 2.38 billion monthly active users overall. The reason that the social network can boast nearly as many removals as it has active users is that it typically finds and removes bogus accounts within minutes of them signing up. As a result, Facebook estimates that only 5% of its monthly active users are fake.

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Source: Slashdot – Facebook Removed 2.2 Billion Fake Accounts This Year

Mark Zuckerberg Dismisses Calls To Break Up Facebook

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday rebuffed calls for the company to be broken up over competition concerns, disputing claims the firm has grown too dominant. From a report: During a call with reporters, Zuckerberg was pressed to address recent calls from Democratic officials and one Facebook co-founder for federal regulators to force the company to spin off WhatsApp and Instagram, previously acquired in two blockbuster deals. “I think it kind of almost goes without saying that we exist in a very competitive and dynamic environment where new services are constantly coming up,” Zuckerberg said. He later disputed arguments that the company has grown too dominant as an advertising player as “a little stretched,” noting the company controls just around a fifth of the global digital ad market. “I don’t really think that the remedy of breaking up the company is going to address those,” he said. “I actually think it’s going to make it a lot harder.” Further reading: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg: Chinese Tech Companies Are Also Powerful, and Will Not Be Broken Up.

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Source: Slashdot – Mark Zuckerberg Dismisses Calls To Break Up Facebook

Julian Assange Charged in 18-Count Indictment For WikiLeaks Disclosures

Julian Assange was charged Thursday in an 18-count superseding indictment for his role in orchestrating the 2010 WikiLeaks disclosures, described by the U.S. government as “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.” From a report: According to the Justice Department, the new charges from a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia allege that “Assange’s actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries.” According to the DOJ announcement, Assange faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each charge with the exception of one charge related to conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. Assange was previously indicted in April on a single-count conspiracy to commit computer intrusion charge for his role in Chelsea Manning’s disclosure of classified materials made public by WikiLeaks in 2010, which the government has called “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”

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Source: Slashdot – Julian Assange Charged in 18-Count Indictment For WikiLeaks Disclosures

Snapchat Employees Abused Data Access To Spy on Users

Several departments inside social media giant Snap have dedicated tools for accessing user data, and multiple employees have abused their privileged access to spy on Snapchat users, Motherboard reported on Thursday. From the report: Two former employees said multiple Snap employees abused their access to Snapchat user data several years ago. Those sources, as well as an additional two former employees, a current employee, and a cache of internal company emails obtained by Motherboard, described internal tools that allowed Snap employees at the time to access user data, including in some cases location information, their own saved Snaps and personal information such as phone numbers and email addresses. Snaps are photos or videos that, if not saved, typically disappear after being received (or after 24 hours if posted to a user’s Story). […] Although Snap has introduced strict access controls to user data and takes abuse and user privacy very seriously according to several sources, the news highlights something that many users may forget: behind the products we use everyday there are people with access to highly sensitive customer data, who need it to perform essential work on the service. But, without proper protections in place, those same people may abuse it to spy on user’s private information or profiles.

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Source: Slashdot – Snapchat Employees Abused Data Access To Spy on Users

Many Google Duplex Calls Are From Real People Instead of AI

Google’s Duplex reservations might be more widely available, but that doesn’t mean the AI is ready to handle every call. From a report: The company has confirmed to the New York Times that about 25 percent of the Assistant-based calls start with a human in a call center, while 15 percent require human intervention. In the newspaper’s tests, the ratio was higher — real people completed three out of four of their successful bookings. There are multiple reasons for relying on the human touch. In one case, Duplex didn’t appear to pick up the cues that reservations were available. It may also need training on more real-world calls before it can handle every situation. More importantly, the company argued that it was taking a cautious approach. It wants to treat businesses with respect, and that means gradually transitioning to the AI as it becomes better-suited to dealing with staff.

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Source: Slashdot – Many Google Duplex Calls Are From Real People Instead of AI

Redditor Allowed To Stay Anonymous, Court Rules

Online free speech has been given a victory, with a federal court ruling that a Redditor can remain anonymous in a copyright lawsuit. From a report: This means anyone from around the globe who posts on Reddit can still rely on First Amendment protections for anonymous free speech, because Reddit is a US platform with a US audience. The Electronic Frontier Foundation fought on behalf of Reddit commenter Darkspilver, a Jehovah’s Witness who posted public and internal documents from The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society online. Watch Tower subpoenaed Reddit to provide identity information on Darkspilver for the court case, but the EFF filed a motion to quash this, citing “deep concerns that disclosure of their identity would cause them to be disfellowshipped by their community.” In February 2019, Darkspilver posted an advertisement by the Jehovah’s Witness organization that asks for donations, as well as a chart showing what personal data the organization keeps. Watch Tower said both of these were copyrighted items. The Redditor argued it was fair use, because he posted the ad for commentary and criticism purposes.

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Source: Slashdot – Redditor Allowed To Stay Anonymous, Court Rules

Antergos Linux Has Been Discontinued

Suren Enfiajyan writes: An Arch Linux based distribution, Antergos, has been discontinued. The project’s primary goal was to make Arch Linux available to a wider audience of users by providing a streamlined, user friendly experience including a safe place for users to communicate, learn, and help one another. There have been 931,439 unique downloads of Antergos Linux since 2014. The primary reason for ending support for it was that the developers no longer have enough free time to properly maintain the distribution. They came to this decision because they believe that continuing to neglect the project would be a huge disservice to the community. Taking this action now, while the project’s code still works, provides an opportunity for interested developers to take what they find useful and start their own projects.

For existing Antergos users: there is no need to worry about installed systems as they will continue to receive updates directly from Arch. Soon, an update will be released that will remove the Antergos repos from system along with any Antergos-specific packages that no longer serve a purpose due to the project ending. Once that is completed, any packages installed from the Antergos repo that are in the AUR will begin to receive updates from there. The Antergos Forum and Wiki will continue to be available until such time it becomes clear that users have moved on to other projects.

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Source: Slashdot – Antergos Linux Has Been Discontinued

Wikipedia To Fight Turkey Ban in European Human Rights Court

Wikmedia, the foundation that runs Wikipedia said Thursday it had filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights to lift Turkey’s two-year block on the online encyclopedia. From a report: Wikipedia said the ban violates fundamental freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed under the European Convention. The application, which was announced today during a press call, comes after Wikipedia’s “continued and exhaustive” attempts to overturn the ban in Turkish courts failed to bear fruit. “Wikipedia is a global resource that everyone can be actively part of shaping,” said Katherine Maher, Wikimedia executive director. “It is through this collective process of writing and rewriting and debate that Wikipedia becomes more useful, more comprehensive, and more representative. It is also through this process that we, a global society, establish a more comprehensive consensus on how we see the world.” Turkey rolled out a blanket ban on Wikipedia citing national security concerns, in a move that has been widely condemned as a crackdown on free speech.

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Source: Slashdot – Wikipedia To Fight Turkey Ban in European Human Rights Court

Rotten Tomatoes Tackles Review Bombing By Requiring Users To Verify Ticket Purchase Before Rating a Film

More changes are coming to review site Rotten Tomatoes. As of Thursday, the audience score for new movies added to the site will default to show ratings from fans confirmed to have purchased tickets to those films. From a report: “The goal is to strengthen consumer confidence around that audience score,” said Greg Ferris, vice president of product for Rotten Tomatoes’ parent company, Fandango. Here’s how it’ll work: Any site user will still be able to write a review of a film. But now users can opt to have their rating and review marked as “verified.” That means they bought their film ticket on Fandango, the movie-ticketing site that owns Rotten Tomatoes. Later this year, AMC Theatres and Regal and Cinemark ticketing sites will also be participating. So if you buy your ticket for Aladdin at the box office, for example, sorry, but you can’t get verified for that review. (At least for now: Dana Benson, Fandango vice president for communications, says that the site is “exploring options” for ways to verify box office purchases.)

Reviews associated with a ticket purchase will be marked with a “verified” icon. By default, the verified reviews will be used to make up the audience score shown on Rotten Tomatoes. To see the total audience score, including reviews by those who didn’t purchase through Fandango or didn’t opt in to the verification, users can select the “all audience” tab. “Every rating counts, but the score that we’re putting out there is verified,” Ferris said. The Rotten Tomatoes site will automatically verify that a ticket was purchased and that the time for that movie showing has already passed. For now, only one verified review will be allowed per transaction, no matter how many tickets were purchased.

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Source: Slashdot – Rotten Tomatoes Tackles Review Bombing By Requiring Users To Verify Ticket Purchase Before Rating a Film

Walmart Debuts Three Sub-$100 Tablets With Google Services

Walmart is rolling out three Android-powered tablets this week, all priced under $100. From a report: The devices, under Walmart’s Onn store brand, include an 8-inch version for $64, a 10.1-inch model for $79 and one at the same larger size with a detachable keyboard for $99, the retailer said in an email Monday. All have Google’s Android operating system, 16 gigabytes of storage and promise 5.5 hours of use before a charge is needed. The new gadgets are part of Walmart’s broader push to revitalize its electronics section and, if successful, could provide a jolt to the sluggish tablet market, which declined in 2018, according to data tracker Strategy Analytics.

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Source: Slashdot – Walmart Debuts Three Sub-0 Tablets With Google Services

Amazon Preparing a Wearable That 'Reads Human Emotions', Says Report

Amazon is said to be working on a wrist-worn, voice-activated device that’s supposed to be able to read human emotions. This would be a rather novel health gadget, of the sort we’re more used to seeing in tenuous crowdfunding campaigns instead of from one of the world’s biggest tech companies. From a report: Bloomberg has spoken to a source and reviewed internal Amazon documents, which reportedly show the Alexa voice software team and Amazon’s Lab126 hardware division are collaborating on the wearable in development. The device, working in sync with a smartphone app, is said to have microphones that can “discern the wearer’s emotional state from the sound of his or her voice.” In a mildly dystopian twist, Bloomberg adds that “eventually the technology could be able to advise the wearer how to interact more effectively with others.”

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Source: Slashdot – Amazon Preparing a Wearable That ‘Reads Human Emotions’, Says Report

Senators Propose Bill Requiring Warrants To Search Devices at the Border

An anonymous reader shares a report: If you’re taking a trip in to or out of the US, border agents currently have free rein to search through your digital devices. Unlike police, agents don’t need a warrant to look through your phones, laptops and other electronics. Two US senators are hoping to change that with a bipartisan bill. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, and Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, on Wednesday introduced the Protecting Data at the Border Act, which would require agents to obtain a warrant before they can search Americans’ devices at the border.

The number of electronic searches at the border has spiked in the last four years. In 2018, the Department of Homeland Security conducted more than 33,000 searches on devices, compared with 4,764 searches in 2015. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment. “The border is quickly becoming a rights-free zone for Americans who travel. The government shouldn’t be able to review your whole digital life simply because you went on vacation, or had to travel for work,” Wyden said in a statement.

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Source: Slashdot – Senators Propose Bill Requiring Warrants To Search Devices at the Border

Veteran Software Developer Panic Unveils Playdate Handheld Game Player

Veteran software developer firm Panic, which has made its name through high-end Mac software as well as titles such as Firewatch, is expanding its work in games and moving in a very unexpected direction. This week, Panic unveiled Playdate, a tiny, yellow Game Boy-like device with a black-and-white screen, a few chunky buttons, and… a hand crank for controlling quirky games. From a report: Playdate is adorable and exciting and fun and technically impressive. They’re making their own hardware (in conjunction with Swedish device makers Teenage Engineering). They wrote their own OS (there’s no Linux). It has a high resolution 400 x 240 black and white display with no backlighting. It has a crank. It’s going to cost only $149 — $149! — and that includes a “season” of 12 games from an amazing roster of beloved video game creators, delivered every Monday for 12 weeks. The idea of a new upstart, a company the size of Panic — with only software experience at that — jumping into the hardware game with a brand new platform harkens back to the ’80s and ’90s. But even back then, a company like, say, General Magic or Palm, was VC-backed and aspired to be a titan. To be the next Atari or Commodore or Apple.

In today’s world all the new computing devices and platforms come from huge companies. Apple of course. All the well-known Android handset makers building off an OS provided by Google. Sony. Nintendo. Panic is almost cheating in a way because they’re tiny. The Playdate platform isn’t competing with the state of the art. It’s not a retro platform, per se, but while it has an obviously nostalgic charm it is competing only on its own terms. Its only goal is to be fun. And aspects of Playdate are utterly modern: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, apps and software updates delivered over-the-air. They’re taking advantage of an aspect of today’s world that is brand new — the Asian supply chain, the cheapness of Asian manufacturing, the cheapness of CPU and GPU cycles that allows things like Raspberry Pi to cost just $35.

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Source: Slashdot – Veteran Software Developer Panic Unveils Playdate Handheld Game Player

China Surveillance Tycoons Lose Billions From Threat of US Sanctions

schwit1 shares a report from Bloomberg: The billionaires behind Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. and Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co. have watched their combined fortunes sink by more than $8 billion since March 2018 as shares of both companies sank on speculation of potential U.S. sanctions. The losses deepened on Wednesday after reports that Donald Trumps administration is considering blacklisting the surveillance giants, in part because of their alleged role in human rights violations.
Hikvision Vice Chairman Gong Hongjia, whose fortune peaked at $13 billion in November 2017, is now worth about $6 billion after the stock fell as much as 10% on Wednesday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Dahua Chairman Fu Liquans net worth has dropped to $1.9 billion from $4.3 billion in March 2018. Hopefully the same happens to U.S. surveillance tycoons.

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Source: Slashdot – China Surveillance Tycoons Lose Billions From Threat of US Sanctions

Significantly Large New Emissions From Banned CFCs Traced To China, Say Scientists

Solandri writes: In 2014, scientists began detecting plumes of CFC-11 in the atmosphere. The compound had been banned in the 1987 Montreal Protocol after it was discovered that it was contributing to the destruction of the ozone layer that protects life on Earth from ultraviolet radiation. Unfortunately, the releases were detected using global monitoring equipment, so the origin could not be determined. Using data from measuring stations in Korea and Japan, and computer modeling of atmospheric patterns, researchers have now pinned down the source of the emissions to eastern China. They also determined that the emissions were too large to be releases from foam which had been produced before the ban (CFCs were a common aerosol and foaming agent). And that the amounts most likely indicate new illegal production. The paper is published in the latest issue of Nature.

dryriver shares an excerpt from the BBC: CFC-11 was primarily used for home insulation but global production was due to be phased out in 2010 [to allow the Ozone layer to heal]. CFC-11 was the second most abundant CFCs and was initially seen to be declining as expected. However in 2018 a team of researchers monitoring the atmosphere found that the rate of decline had slowed by about 50% after 2012. That team reasoned that they were seeing new production of the gas, coming from East Asia. The authors of that paper argued that if the sources of new production weren’t shut down, it could delay the healing of the ozone layer by a decade.

Further detective work in China by the Environmental Investigation Agency in 2018 seemed to indicate that the country was indeed the source. They found that the illegal chemical was used in the majority of the polyurethane insulation produced by firms they contacted. One seller of CFC-11 estimated that 70% of China’s domestic sales used the illegal gas. The reason was quite simple — CFC-11 is better quality and much cheaper than the alternatives. This new paper seems to confirm beyond any reasonable doubt that some 40-60% of the increase in emissions is coming from provinces in north eastern China. The authors also say that these CFCs are also very potent greenhouse gases. One ton of CFC-11 is equivalent to around 5,000 tons of CO2. “If we look at these extra emissions that we’ve identified from eastern China, it equates to about 35 million tons of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere every year, that’s equivalent to about 10% of UK emissions, or similar to the whole of London.”

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Source: Slashdot – Significantly Large New Emissions From Banned CFCs Traced To China, Say Scientists

How 'The Big Bang Theory' Normalized Nerd Culture

Last week, the last episode of the final season of “The Big Bang Theory” was broadcasted on CBS. Say what you will about the show, but one thing is clear: it was popular. While the average episode in Season 11 received over 18.6 million views, the season finale ended its run with an audience of 23.44 million viewers. The New Yorker’s Neima Jahromi reflects on the show and how it “normalized nerd culture”: On Thursday night, “The Big Bang Theory” closed out its run with an audience of eighteen million viewers. Despite all the cast changes, Sheldon remained emphatically misanthropic, self-centered, and alienated. In the end, the reason he became a kind of dweeby Fonz has to do with the structural tendencies of the oft-dismissed multi-camera sitcom. Such shows extract empathy in real time. With a live audience, silence is not an option: if a joke or a scene doesn’t land, if real people aren’t feeling it, then the writers storm the soundstage and change it. Alienated characters, who are the least likely to garner empathy, require extra attention from writers, and therefore often gravitate toward the center of a show. As a result, viewers come halfway, too. It’s unlikely that a curmudgeonly Archie Bunker on “All in the Family” or an uptight Alex P. Keaton on “Family Ties” will remain detestable for long, even if their creators did set them up to be antagonists. Eventually, audiences saw that Sheldon was as befuddled by the world as they were uncomprehending of his intellectual pursuits. They also learned that he hated change as much as they did. In this way, an outmoded form of television cushioned the anxiety of the brave new tech culture for a generation. How do you feel about the ending of The Big Bang Theory?

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Source: Slashdot – How ‘The Big Bang Theory’ Normalized Nerd Culture

New Paper Confirms Near-Room-Temperature Superconductivity In Wild, Hydrogen-Rich Material

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: A team of physicists has published peer-reviewed results documenting near-room-temperature superconductivity in the hydrogen-rich compound lanthanum hydride. The team, led by physicist Mikhail Eremets from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, kicked off the most recent race for a high-temperature superconducting hydride in 2015, when they published a paper announcing the discovery of superconductivity at -70 Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit). In this most recent paper, the researchers placed a piece of lanthanum into an insulating ring, then placed it into a box full of pressurized hydrogen gas. They clamped the gasket between a pair of diamonds, and continued squeezing the diamonds until they hit the desired pressures, nearly 2 million times the pressure on the surface of Earth. Then, they hit the sample with a laser to form the lanthanum hydride. Finally, they take measurements to confirm they really created the material and that it’s really a superconductor. The researchers detail two measurements in the paper: In one, they measure the resistance drop to zero at the -23 Celsius or -9.67 Fahrenheit temperature. In another, they notice that this temperature decreases in the presence of a magnetic field — a clue that they were actually measuring the sample rather than something being wrong with their experimental setup.

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Source: Slashdot – New Paper Confirms Near-Room-Temperature Superconductivity In Wild, Hydrogen-Rich Material

Huawei Executive Accused of Helping Steal Trade Secrets

CNEX Labs, a Silicon Valley startup backed by Microsoft and Dell, is accusing high-level Huawei executive Eric Xu of participating in a conspiracy to steal its trade secrets (Warning: source paywalled; alternative source), reports The Wall Street Journal. From a report: The Journal quotes a newly released hearing transcript that offers some details in a largely locked-down trial. According to its write-up, CNEX claims that Xu — one of Huawei’s rotating chairmen — “directed a Huawei engineer to analyze Cnex’s technical information.” The engineer then allegedly posed as a potential CNEX customer to obtain details about its operations. CNEX also says that Xu was briefed on a plot to surreptitiously gather information from Xiamen University, which had obtained a computer memory board from CNEX. According to the Journal, Huawei lawyers admitted that Xu had been “in the chain of command that had requested” information about CNEX, but they denied that any trade secrets had been stolen.

Huawei originally filed a lawsuit against CNEX co-founder Yiren “Ronnie” Huang in 2017, claiming Huang — who left Huawei in 2013 — had poached employees and used its patents to build CNEX’s solid-state drive technology. CNEX counter-sued, claiming that Huawei had misappropriated its tech and was trying to gather even more information through the lawsuit.

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Source: Slashdot – Huawei Executive Accused of Helping Steal Trade Secrets

Apple Agrees To Notify iPhone Users If iOS Updates Will Affect Performance, UK Watchdog Says

A UK watchdog group said on Wednesday that Apple has agreed to clearly notify consumers if future iOS software updates slow down or change the performance of an iPhone. CNBC reports: The U.K. Competition and Markets Authority investigated the issue after Apple said in early 2018 that it had deliberately slowed down processor speeds through a software update on some iPhones to extend battery life. Public pressure stemming from the revelation forced Apple to provide discounted $29 battery replacements that were cited by the company as one reason iPhone sales last holiday quarter were slower than expected. That program has ended.

“To ensure compliance with consumer law Apple has formally agreed to improve the information it provides to people about the battery health of their phones and the impact performance management software may have on their phones,” the U.K. government said on its website. The CMA said that Apple is legally required to tell consumers about the software and battery health, something the company was already doing through software on the iPhone as well as a letter on its website.

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Source: Slashdot – Apple Agrees To Notify iPhone Users If iOS Updates Will Affect Performance, UK Watchdog Says