Final former eBay employee involved in bizarre EcommerceBytes harassment case pleads guilty

Earlier this week, David Harville, one of seven former eBay employees involved in a 2020 campaign to harass the creators of a newsletter critical of the e-commerce company, pleaded guilty to five federal felony charges, ending one of the most bizarre episodes in recent tech history.

In June 2020, the US Department of Justice charged six former eBay employees, including Harville, with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses. Of the group, Harville was the final employee to admit involvement in the harassment campaign that targeted Ina and David Steiner, The Associated Press reported on Thursday.

In 2019, the Massachusetts couple published an article in their EcommerceBytes newsletter about litigation involving eBay. Responding to what they considered negative coverage of the company, the group carried out a harassment campaign that involved, among other actions, sending the couple a preserved fetal pig, live spiders and a funeral wreath. They also created fake social media accounts to send threatening messages to the Steiners and share their home address online.

According to the Department of Justice’s original 2020 filing, part of Harville’s involvement in the campaign included a plot to install a GPS tracking device on the Steiner’s car. Harville, alongside James Baugh, one of the other former employees charged in the scheme, carried with them fake documents allegedly designed to show the two were investigating the Steiners for threatening eBay executives.

Last July, a federal judge sentenced Philip Cooke, the first of the seven former employees convicted in the scheme, to 18 months in prison. At the time, US District Judge Allison Burroughs called the entire case “just nuts.” That same summer, the Steiners sued several eBay employees, including former CEO Devin Wenig, for carrying out a conspiracy to “intimidate, threaten to kill, torture, terrorize, stalk and silence them.” Wenig has denied having any knowledge of the campaign.

Source: Engadget – Final former eBay employee involved in bizarre EcommerceBytes harassment case pleads guilty

Buffalo gunman clips proliferate on social media following Twitch removal

Following Saturday’s horrific mass shooting in Buffalo, online platforms like Facebook, TikTok and Twitter are seemingly struggling to prevent various versions of the gunman’s livestream from proliferating on their platforms. The shooter, an 18-year-old white male, attempted to broadcast the entire attack on Twitch using a GoPro Hero 7 Black. The company told Engadget it took his channel down within two minutes of the violence starting.

“Twitch has a zero-tolerance policy against violence of any kind and works swiftly to respond to all incidents,” a Twitch spokesperson said. “The user has been indefinitely suspended from our service, and we are taking all appropriate action, including monitoring for any accounts rebroadcasting this content.”

Despite Twitch’s response, that hasn’t stopped the video from proliferating online. According to New York Times reporter Ryan Mac, one link to a version of the livestream someone used a screen recorder to preserve saw 43,000 interactions. Another Twitter user said they found a Facebook post linking to the video that had been viewed more than 1.8 million times, with an accompanying screenshot suggesting the post did not trigger Facebook’s automated safeguards. A Meta spokesperson told Mac the video violates Facebook’s Community Standards.

Responding to Mac’s Twitter thread, Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz said she found TikTok videos that share accounts and terms Twitter users can search for to view the full video. “Clear the vid is all over Twitter,” she said. We’ve reached out to the company for comment.

Preventing terrorists and violent extremists from disseminating their content online is one of the things Facebook, Twitter and a handful of other tech companies said they would do following the 2019 shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. In the first 24 hours after that attack, Meta said it removed 1.5 million videos, but clips of the shooting continued to circulate on the platform for more than a month after the event. The company blamed its automated moderation tools for the failure, noting they had a hard time detecting the footage because of the way in which it was filmed. “This was a first-person shooter video, one where we have someone using a GoPro helmet with a camera focused from their perspective of shooting,” Neil Potts, Facebook’s public policy director, told British lawmakers at the time.

Source: Engadget – Buffalo gunman clips proliferate on social media following Twitch removal

A USB-C iPhone could be part of a broader move away from Lightning for Apple

Apple may be planning a broader move away from its proprietary Lightning port than was initially suggested in reports earlier in the week. According to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the company is working on accessories, including AirPods as well as mouse and keyboard peripherals, that charge via USB-C.

Kuo shared the forecast in response to a tweet he posted on May 11th. In that earlier message, he said Apple would redesign the iPhone to feature the more universal port standard by the second half of 2023. Bloomberg later corroborated Kuo’s prediction.

Exactly when Apple could move its accessories to USB-C is unclear. Kuo only said the transition would happen “in the foreseeable future.” According to the report Bloomberg published on Friday, Apple won’t release a USB-C iPhone until next year at the earliest. It would make the most sense for the company to complete the move all at once, but there’s no guarantee it will do things that way.

As with a potential USB-C iPhone, Apple’s motivation for moving its accessories away from Lightning may have more to do with avoiding regulatory scrutiny than creating a better user experience. In an effort to cut down on electronic waste, the European Union has spent years pushing for a universal charging port and last month moved one step closer to mandating USB-C on all small and medium-sized electronics.

Source: Engadget – A USB-C iPhone could be part of a broader move away from Lightning for Apple

Elon Musk claims Twitter's legal team told him he violated an NDA

Elon Musk’s tweeting may have landed him in legal trouble again. As you may recall, the Tesla and SpaceX executive tweeted on Friday that his deal to buy Twitter was “temporarily on hold” after the company disclosed that fake and spam accounts represented less than 5 percent of its monetizable daily active users during the first quarter of 2022.

After his tweet prompted Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal to say the company was “prepared for all scenarios,” Musk stated his team would test “a random sample of 100 followers” to verify Twitter’s numbers. According to the billionaire, one of the answers he gave to a question about his methodology prompted a response from Twitter’s legal team.

“I picked 100 as the sample size number, because that is what Twitter uses to calculate <5% fake/spam/duplicate,” he said in the alleged offending tweet. “Twitter legal just called to complain that I violated their NDA by revealing the bot check sample size is 100,” Musk later said of his actions.

We’ve reached out to Twitter for comment.

In another twist in Musk’s bid to buy Twitter, he also took aim at the platform’s algorithmic feed. “You are being manipulated by the algorithm in ways you don’t realize,” he said.

The message drew the attention of former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. “It was designed simply to save you time when you are away from [the] app for a while,” Dorsey told Musk. “Pull to refresh goes back to reverse chron as well.”

Dorsey then responded to someone who said Twitter’s algorithmic feed was “definitely” designed to manipulate. “No it wasn’t designed to manipulate. It was designed to catch you up and work off what you engage with,” Dorsey said. “That can def have unintended consequences tho.”

Musk later appeared to walk back his comment. “I’m not suggesting malice in the algorithm, but rather that it’s trying to guess what you might want to read and, in doing so, inadvertently manipulate/amplify your viewpoints without you realizing this is happening,” he said.

Should something come of Musk’s actions, this wouldn’t be the first time one of his tweets has landed him in legal trouble. Back in 2018, his now-infamous “funding secured” tweet attracted the attention of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, leading to a $40 million settlement with the agency that he’s now trying to end.

Source: Engadget – Elon Musk claims Twitter’s legal team told him he violated an NDA

Hitting the Books: Why we need to treat the robots of tomorrow like tools

Do not be swayed by the dulcet dial-tones of tomorrow’s AIs and their siren songs of the singularity. No matter how closely artificial intelligences and androids may come to look and act like humans, they’ll never actually be humans, argue Paul Leonardi, Duca Family Professor of Technology Management at University of California Santa Barbara, and Tsedal Neeley, Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, in their new book The Digital Mindset: What It Really Takes to Thrive in the Age of Data, Algorithms, and AI — and therefore should not be treated like humans. The pair contends in the excerpt below that in doing so, such hinders interaction with advanced technology and hampers its further development.

Digital Mindset cover
Harvard Business Review Press

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from THE DIGITAL MINDSET: What It Really Takes to Thrive in the Age of Data, Algorithms, and AI by Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley. Copyright 2022 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

Treat AI Like a Machine, Even If It Seems to Act Like a Human

We are accustomed to interacting with a computer in a visual way: buttons, dropdown lists, sliders, and other features allow us to give the computer commands. However, advances in AI are moving our interaction with digital tools to more natural-feeling and human-like interactions. What’s called a conversational user interface (UI) gives people the ability to act with digital tools through writing or talking that’s much more the way we interact with other people, like Burt Swanson’s “conversation” with Amy the assistant. When you say, “Hey Siri,” “Hello Alexa,” and “OK Google,” that’s a conversational UI. The growth of tools controlled by conversational UIs is staggering. Every time you call an 800 number and are asked to spell your name, answer “Yes,” or say the last four numbers of your social security number you are interacting with an AI that uses conversational UI. Conversational bots have become ubiquitous in part because they make good business sense, and in part because they allow us to access services more efficiently and more conveniently.

For example, if you’ve booked a train trip through Amtrak, you’ve probably interacted with an AI chatbot. Its name is Julie, and it answers more than 5 million questions annually from more than 30 million passengers. You can book rail travel with Julie just by saying where you’re going and when. Julie can pre-fill forms on Amtrak’s scheduling tool and provide guidance through the rest of the booking process. Amtrak has seen an 800 percent return on their investment in Julie. Amtrak saves more than $1 million in customer service expenses each year by using Julie to field low-level, predictable questions. Bookings have increased by 25 percent, and bookings done through Julie generate 30 percent more revenue than bookings made through the website, because Julie is good at upselling customers!

One reason for Julie’s success is that Amtrak makes it clear to users that Julie is an AI agent, and they tell you why they’ve decided to use AI rather than connect you directly with a human. That means that people orient to it as a machine, not mistakenly as a human. They don’t expect too much from it, and they tend to ask questions in ways that elicit helpful answers. Amtrak’s decision may sound counterintuitive, since many companies try to pass off their chatbots as real people and it would seem that interacting with a machine as though it were a human should be precisely how to get the best results. A digital mindset requires a shift in how we think about our relationship to machines. Even as they become more humanish, we need to think about them as machines— requiring explicit instructions and focused on narrow tasks., the company that made meeting scheduler Amy, enables you to schedule a meeting at work, or invite a friend to your kids’ basketball game by simply emailing Amy (or her counterpart, Andrew) with your request as though they were a live personal assistant. Yet Dennis Mortensen, the company’s CEO, observes that more than 90 percent of the inquiries that the company’s help desk receives are related to the fact that people are trying to use natural language with the bots and struggling to get good results.

Perhaps that was why scheduling a simple meeting with a new acquaintance became so annoying to Professor Swanson, who kept trying to use colloquialisms and conventions from informal conversation. In addition to the way he talked, he made many perfectly valid assumptions about his interaction with Amy. He assumed Amy could understand his scheduling constraints and that “she” would be able to discern what his preferences were from the context of the conversation. Swanson was informal and casual—the bot doesn’t get that. It doesn’t understand that when asking for another person’s time, especially if they are doing you a favor, it’s not effective to frequently or suddenly change the meeting logistics. It turns out it’s harder than we think to interact casually with an intelligent robot.

Researchers have validated the idea that treating machines like machines works better than trying to be human with them. Stanford professor Clifford Nass and Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon conducted a series of studies in which people interacted with anthropomorphic computer interfaces. (Anthropomorphism, or assigning human attributes to inanimate objects, is a major issue in AI research.) They found that individuals tend to overuse human social categories, applying gender stereotypes to computers and ethnically identifying with computer agents. Their findings also showed that people exhibit over-learned social behaviors such as politeness and reciprocity toward computers. Importantly, people tend to engage in these behaviors — treating robots and other intelligent agents as though they were people — even when they know they are interacting with computers, rather than humans. It seems that our collective impulse to relate with people often creeps into our interaction with machines.

This problem of mistaking computers for humans is compounded when interacting with artificial agents via conversational UIs. Take for example a study we conducted with two companies who used AI assistants that provided answers to routine business queries. One used an anthropomorphized AI that was human-like. The other wasn’t.

Workers at the company who used the anthropomorphic agent routinely got mad at the agent when the agent did not return useful answers. They routinely said things like, “He sucks!” or “I would expect him to do better” when referring to the results given by the machine. Most importantly, their strategies to improve relations with the machine mirrored strategies they would use with other people in the office. They would ask their question more politely, they would rephrase into different words, or they would try to strategically time their questions for when they thought the agent would be, in one person’s terms, “not so busy.” None of these strategies was particularly successful.

In contrast, workers at the other company reported much greater satisfaction with their experience. They typed in search terms as though it were a computer and spelled things out in great detail to make sure that an AI, who could not “read between the lines” and pick up on nuance, would heed their preferences. The second group routinely remarked at how surprised they were when their queries were returned with useful or even surprising information and they chalked up any problems that arose to typical bugs with a computer.

For the foreseeable future, the data are clear: treating technologies — no matter how human-like or intelligent they appear — like technologies is key to success when interacting with machines. A big part of the problem is they set the expectations for users that they will respond in human-like ways, and they make us assume that they can infer our intentions, when they can do neither. Interacting successfully with a conversational UI requires a digital mindset that understands we are still some ways away from effective human-like interaction with the technology. Recognizing that an AI agent cannot accurately infer your intentions means that it’s important to spell out each step of the process and be clear about what you want to accomplish.

Source: Engadget – Hitting the Books: Why we need to treat the robots of tomorrow like tools

'Zenless Zone Zero' is a new action RPG from the studio behind 'Genshin Impact'

Genshin Impact developer Hoyoverse is working on a new project. On Friday, the studio shared the first trailer for Zenless Zone Zero, an action RPG set in a modern urban setting. Reminiscent of titles like The World Ends With You and Scarlett Nexus, the game pits players against Ethereal, monstrous creatures borne from another dimension. In a nod to Neon Genesis Evangelion, the action takes place in New Eridu, one of the few cities to survive the devastation wrought by the Ethereal.

As a “Proxy,” you’ll need to organize a disparate party of characters to battle the monsters. Hoyoverse hasn’t explicitly said how it plans to monetize Zenless Zone Zero, but it sounds like the game will employ a similar system to the one found in Genshin Impact. In other words, expect to use real-world money to improve your chances at obtaining some of the game’s most powerful party members. Zenless Zone Zero does not have a release date yet, but you can sign up to take part in the game’s closed iOS and PC beta by visiting its official website.

Source: Engadget – ‘Zenless Zone Zero’ is a new action RPG from the studio behind ‘Genshin Impact’

‘Stardew Valley’ has sold more than 20 million copies

Six years after its initial release, Stardew Valley has sold more than 20 million copies. Creator Eric Barone shared news of the accomplishment in an update posted to the game’s press site and an interview with PC Gamer. “The 20 million copies milestone is really amazing,” he told the outlet.

But what’s even more impressive is the increasing pace of Stardew Valley’s sales. It took four years for the game to sell its first 10 million copies. Since September 2021, it has sold 5 million units. “The average daily sales of Stardew Valley are higher today than at any point,” Barone said. “I’m not exactly sure why that is. My hope is that the game is just continuing to spread via word of mouth, and the more people that are playing it, the more people will share the game with their friends.”

Barone told PC Gamer he plans to continue working on Stardew Valley but is now primarily focused on Haunted Chocolatier, a new action RPG he announced last fall. “Ultimately I have to follow my heart or else the quality of the content will suffer,” Barone said.

Twenty million copies sold is an impressive feat for any game, let alone one that a single person developed. Barone began working on Stardew Valley after graduating with a computer science degree from the University of Washington Tacoma. He found that he couldn’t land a position in his field following the 2008 financial crisis, so he started developing the game to hone his craft. He then spent the next four years working on the project before finally releasing Stardew Valley at the start of 2016. Bloomberg journalist Jason Schreier documents the entire saga in his excellent 2017 book Blood, Sweat, and Pixels.

Source: Engadget – ‘Stardew Valley’ has sold more than 20 million copies

Proposed Ohio legislation would criminalize AirTag stalking

A group of bipartisan lawmakers in Ohio has introduced a bill to criminalize AirTag stalking. If passed by the state legislature, HB672 would “prohibit a person from knowingly installing a tracking device or application on another’s property without the other person’s consent.”

Ohio lawmakers decided to tackle the growing problem of remote tracker stalking after 3News lobbied the government to take action. In February, the news station found a loophole in state law that allows those with no prior record of stalking or domestic violence to track someone without potential penalty. According to an investigation by the outlet, fewer than two dozen states have enacted laws against electronic tracking, Ohio being among the group that has not drafted specific legislation against the behavior.

A recent report from Motherboard suggested AirTag stalking isn’t an issue limited to a few high-profile incidents. After the outlet requested any records mentioning AirTags from a dozen US police departments, it received 150 reports. Of those, 50 involved cases where women thought someone was secretly using the device to track them.

In February, Apple said it would implement additional safety features to prevent AirTag stalking. Later in the year, the company plans to add a precision finding feature that will allow those with iPhone 11, 12 and 13 series devices to find their way to an unknown AirTag. The tool will display the direction of and distance to an unwanted AirTag. Apple said it would also update its unwanted tracking alerts to notify people of potential stalkers earlier.

“AirTag was designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or another person’s property, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products,” the company said at the time. “We design our products to provide a great experience, but also with safety and privacy in mind. Across Apple’s hardware, software, and services teams, we’re committed to listening to feedback.”

Source: Engadget – Proposed Ohio legislation would criminalize AirTag stalking

Netflix is developing livestreaming features

Netflix plans to livestream its upcoming slate of unscripted shows and comedy specials, according to Deadline. Netflix told the outlet it was in the early stages of developing the capability.

Deadline suggests the streaming giant could use the technology to hold live voting for competitive shows like the upcoming Dance 100 and air sets from its annual Netflix Is A Joke festival, among other use cases. The feature doesn’t have a rollout date yet, with only a small team within the company reportedly in the “preliminary” stages of developing the tech. We’ve reached out to Netflix for comment.

Separately, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the company recently updated its culture guidelines to add a new section titled “artistic expression.” In short, the section tells potential employees they may be required to work on projects they may not align with their values.

“Not everyone will like — or agree with — everything on our service… and we let viewers decide what’s appropriate for them, versus having Netflix censor specific artists or voices,” the company states in the document. “Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful. If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.”

Netflix told The Journal it spent the past 18 months discussing cultural issues with employees. The company says it wrote the tweaked guidelines to help job seekers make more “informed decisions about whether Netflix is the right company for them.”

The update comes after Netflix faced employee unrest over its latest comedy special from Dave Chappelle. Many at the company criticized the comedian and The Closer for being transphobic. Netflix’s reaction to the incident, including the decision to fire a worker who allegedly shared sensitive information about the special, led to a worker walkout.

Source: Engadget – Netflix is developing livestreaming features

Recommended Reading: Behind the wheel of the Ford F-150 Lightning

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning first drive review: Worth the wait

John Beltz Snyder, Autoblog

The Ford F-150 is an insanely popular truck, so the debut of the electric version is an important moment for the US automaker. Our colleagues at Autoblog went behind the wheel for some initial impressions of the F-150 Lightning.


Twenty Thousand Hertz

Part two of the story behind the iconic Windows start up sounds continues with the company’s decision to retire the audio in Windows 8. If you missed the first episode, former Microsoft lead UI designer Jensen Harris and sound designer Matthew Bennett discuss the clips. That episode covers the “Ta-da!” from Windows 3.1 through Windows 7, including the chime Brian Eno created for Windows 95.

Why FIFA’s split with EA Sports could prove to be a hugely expensive error

Iain Macintosh, The Athletic

The final FIFA-branded soccer game from EA Sports will be FIFA 23 as the two parties will part ways after working together to build the iconic series. The Athletic explains why FIFA’s decision to make its own games (yes, plural) could prove to be a costly mistake.

Source: Engadget – Recommended Reading: Behind the wheel of the Ford F-150 Lightning

McLaren will join Formula E in 2023

Team news is starting heat up ahead Formula E’s Gen3 debut next season, and today one of the bigger expected announcements was made official. Ahead of the Berlin E-Prix, McLaren Racing announced its move to Formula E for season nine, committing to fielding a team when the series’ new spec makes its first competitive laps. Rumors began to swirl weeks ago that the company was coming to the all-electric racing series. 

True to the reports, McLaren will acquire the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team. Current team principal Ian James will remain to ensure “a smooth transition.” Mercedes-EQ is the current world championship team and driver Nyck de Vries won the individual series title in 2021 to complete the double trophy season. McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown explained that it was “satisfying” to provide a new home for the “class-leading” Formula E team that Mercedes has built. No word on a driver line-up just yet, but de Vries’ stablemate Stoffel Vandoorne will move to DS Penske next season.

“McLaren Racing always seeks to compete against the best and on the leading edge of technology, providing our fans, partners and people with new ways to be excited, entertained and inspired,” Brown said in a statement. “Formula E, like all our racing series, fulfills all those criteria.”

McLaren is certainly no stranger to Formula racing. As the second-oldest active team in F1, the constructor made its debut in 1966 at Monaco. It amassed eight constructors championships in the 70s, 80s and 90s with 12 individual drivers championships. Its most recent trophy-winning season was 2008 when Lewis Hamilton won his first championship (and did so in quite dramatic fashion).

McLaren also has experience racing EVs as it competes in the off-road Extreme E series. The racing series is still in its infancy after it first debuted in 2021, however, like Formula E and Formula 1, Extreme E is also sanctioned by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile). McLaren also fields two cars in IndyCar as Arrow McLaren SP, an open-wheel series it returned to in 2021 after a 40-year break. The team is a joint effort between Arrow Electronics, McLaren Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

McLaren joins Maserati as a major manufacturer entering Formula E next season. Maserati announced in January that it would participate in the series, and in April it revealed a partnership with the Monaco-based ROKiT Venturi Racing. Nissan also recently took full ownership of the e.dams team it has partnered with since 2018. In the lead up to this weekend’s Berlin E-Prix, German team ABT Sportsline revealed plans to return to Formula E next season and Avalanche Andretti announced it would run Porsche powertrains starting in 2023.

Source: Engadget – McLaren will join Formula E in 2023

There isn't a truly complete Android experience right now

Google’s I/O 2022 keynote was disappointing if you were expecting a major Android upgrade that tackled deep-seated issues, at least based on the details shared so far. The company didn’t spend much time discussing Android 13, and most of the announced updates were known, minor or both. They were largely defined by media and privacy controls. The release as-is won’t be a revelation unless you’re a tablet owner. While we might not have seen all of Android 13’s features just yet, and there are already some genuinely useful improvements (such as a brand new Wallet app), the status quo will largely remain intact.

And that’s unfortunate. While Android is a very capable platform with some exceptional hardware to match, there’s no one device that nails every experience consistently well. Buy a powerful phone and you’ll probably be saddled with quirky software; get your dream Android variant and you may have to put up with mediocre cameras or chips. It’s time Google and manufacturers worked together to produce devices you could more easily recommend to others.

Software: Too much or not enough?

Samsung Galaxy S22 and S22+
Sam Rutherford/Engadget

To be fair, Google is only partly responsible for the current state of affairs. The very beauty of Android is the potential for vendors to add their own spin — a uniformly Google-made experience would defeat the point.

The company still plays an important role, though, and it’s increasingly clear there’s more it can do. Use a Pixel 6 or another phone with ‘pure’ Android 12 and you’ll realize the stock OS, while visually cohesive and free of fluff, is still relatively barebones. You won’t get an advanced camera app, extensive media integration, special browser features or other clever tricks you often get with customized Android experiences. The polish isn’t always there, either — just ask Pixel owners. Apple had its share of dodgy updates in years past, but it appears to have ironed out the glitches that Google occasionally leaves in.

You can install apps, launchers and other utilities to flesh things out, but that’s not realistic for some users. I wouldn’t hand a Pixel to a newcomer or anyone who wants strong out-of-the-box capabilities. Google could stand to improve its functionality and quality to more directly compete with its partners beyond the usual handful of (usually) temporary Pixel exclusives. While the company has lately shifted more toward regular feature drops than mammoth OS revisions, Android 13 as we know it is still somewhat disappointing on this front.

That’s not to let those partners off the hook. While phone makers don’t overdo customization as much as in years past, some non-stock Android experiences still include their share of arbitrary tweaks. Samsung is the classic example. While One UI is much cleaner and friendlier to third parties than past Samsung interfaces, it still tends to duplicate Google features or push services you probably won’t use. Do you really need two browsers, or to buy apps from the Galaxy Store? You’ll also see some over-the-top Android implementations from Chinese brands, although we’d note that Xiaomi has been reining in MIUI.

And the situation is seemingly getting worse in some cases. OnePlus originally attracted enthusiasts precisely because its customizations were limited and usually very helpful, but there has been evidence of the creeping influence of parent company Oppo’s top-heavy software design on devices like the OnePlus 10 Pro. The OnePlus Shelf pop-up menu got in the way during our review, for instance. Update policies have likewise sometimes taken steps backward, as Motorola still doesn’t guarantee more than one major OS upgrade for some phones. It would be great to see OnePlus and other vendors strike a more delicate balance that adds thoughtful touches without veering into excess or limiting software updates.

Hardware: Flies in the ointment

Motorola Edge (2021)
Igor Bonifacic/Engadget

Software hiccups wouldn’t be so problematic if the devices were more well-rounded. It’s all too common to find an Android phone that performs superbly in most respects, but has at least one weakness that tarnishes the experience or even proves a dealbreaker.

A quick survey of major Android phones illustrates this all too well. The regular Galaxy S22 series is one of the best all-rounders on the market today, but it has modest, non-expandable storage, a 1080p screen (fine, but not the 1440p some crave) and reduced features in its smallest version. Pixel 6? An outstanding value, but the notoriously fussy fingerprint reader and limited storage can kill interest quickly. The OnePlus 10 Pro is only a slight improvement over its predecessor, and still suffers from lackluster camera quality. You can overcome some of these limitations with spare-no-expense flagships like the S22 Ultra or Sony’s Xperia 1 IV, but then you’re likely spending well over $1,000 for the privilege.

It becomes even more of a challenge with more affordable models. Motorola is increasingly popular among budget users, but its confusing lineup and missing features (like NFC) create serious problems for shoppers. Samsung’s mid-tier phones can be sluggish or otherwise unexciting, and the Galaxy A53 even feels like a step backward. Handsets like the Poco F4 GT and upcoming Pixel 6a offer high-end processing power at a low price, but you can safely assume you’re making compromises in areas like camera tech. And don’t get us started on companies that deliver huge but low-resolution screens that can prove to be eyesores.

To be clear, every phone has its compromises. It wouldn’t be realistic to expect a perfect product from any brand, including those beyond Android. Apple is often conservative with iPhone design, and has been slow to embrace common Android features —120Hz and USB-C, anyone? More often than not, though, you’re choosing an Android device based on the major flaws you’re willing to tolerate, not because it’s clearly the best you can get for the money. Combine that with the software dilemmas mentioned earlier and a truly well-rounded Android phone can be very difficult to find.

Glimmers of hope

Google Pixel 7 and 7 Pro

This isn’t to say the Android phone industry is in a dire state. The very gripes at the heart of this piece underscore how far the platform has come. Android 12 (and soon 13) is decidedly more polished than previous iterations. Once-obnoxious brands like Samsung have shown some restraint, and it’s much easier to buy a budget phone that will make you genuinely happy, even if there are clear shortcomings.

You can also point to some devices that are showing the way forward. While Sony’s recent Xperia phones are increasingly expensive and geared toward niche audiences, they tend to deliver strong performance, good cameras, top-tier displays and moderately customized software. And if the Pixel 7 can address some of its predecessor’s hiccups, it might just be the Android phone to beat in the second half of the year.

Rather, the concern is that there’s a lot more room to grow. Companies ought to take a more holistic approach to phone design where there are few if any obvious sacrifices in the name of price, bragging rights, storage upsells or peddling services. Google could do more to lead by example, such as matching the more advanced software features of its vendor allies. It’s entirely possible to make a phone that excels simply through the lack of glaring weaknesses — it’s just a matter of finding the resolve to make that happen.

Source: Engadget – There isn’t a truly complete Android experience right now

Tech industry files emergency application to block controversial Texas social media law

Trade industry groups representing tech giants, such as Google and Facebook, have filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court to block HB 20. That’s the controversial law Texan law that bars social media websites from removing or restricting content based on “the viewpoint of the user or another person.” It also allows users to sue large platforms with more than than 50 million active monthly users if they believe they were banned for their political views. As The Washington Post reports, it reflects Republicans’ claims that they’re being being censored by “Big Tech.”

A federal judge blocked HB 20 from being implemented last year, but the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision recently. The panel of judges agreed with the state of Texas that social networks are “modern-day public squares,” which means they’re banned from censoring certain viewpoints. One of the judges also said that social networks aren’t websites but “internet providers” instead. The panel allowed the law to take effect while its merits are still being litigated in lower court. 

NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), the groups representing the tech industry, have maintained that the law is an attack on the First Amendment and have previously questioned its constitutionality. In their emergency application, they said HB 20 is an “unprecedented assault on the editorial discretion of private websites… that would fundamentally transform their business models and services.” 

They explained that under the law, platforms would have no choice but to allow the dissemination of “all sorts of objectionable viewpoints,” such as Russian propaganda justifying the invasion of Ukraine, posts supporting neo-Nazis, KKKs and Holocaust deniers, as well as posts encouraging dangerous behavior, such as disordered eating. “The Fifth Circuit has yet to offer any explanation why the District Court’s thorough opinion was wrong,” they wrote in their application (PDF).

NetChoice and CCIA also argue that by allowing the law to be enforced, it could influence and interfere with the decision of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Atlanta-based appeals court will decide the fate of a similar law in Florida that was initially blocked by a federal judge for violating Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Source: Engadget – Tech industry files emergency application to block controversial Texas social media law

Fewer Americans want the government to regulate Big Tech, Pew study says

Americans are mixed about whether the government should do more to hold tech companies accountable, and fewer are in favor of more regulation than they were last year, according to results released today from a Pew survey. Last year, more than half (56 percent) of Americans wanted more regulation of Big Tech. Now, only 44 percent of Americans want to see more government enforcement of tech companies. And the number of respondents who want less government regulation of the tech industry has doubled this year, from nine percent to 20 percent.

But those results shouldn’t suggest that the public has a rosier view of Big Tech or trusts that tech companies are getting it right. The majority of respondents still feel — as they have in years past — that platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others censor political points that the companies find objectionable. More than three-quarters (or 77 percent) of Americans believe that social media platforms behave this way in 2022, which is only a slight increase from recent years. 

As we’ve seen in the past, more Republicans than Democrats feel certain political views are targeted on social media — 92 percent of Republicans say censoring is likely occurring, compared to 66 percent of Democrats. And over recent years, the belief that social platforms possess and act on biases against conservatives has become such a frequent talking point amount right-wing lawmakers that the Senate held hearings on that very subject during the Trump presidency. According to a Politico analysis however, posts from conservative media outlets and right-wing media influences are more likely to go viral. Similarly, a New York University study found that social media platform algorithms are more likely to amplify conservatives than non-partisan or liberal figures. But even among left-wing respondents, the belief in political censorship among platforms has steadily increased in the last two years, according to Pew’s polling. While not as drastic as their Republican counterparts, a plurality Democrats (66 percent) maintain a belief that platforms censor based on political beliefs, up from 62 percent in 2018, and only 59 percent in 2020.

Source: Engadget – Fewer Americans want the government to regulate Big Tech, Pew study says

Anonymous social app Yik Tak left users' precise locations exposed

Yik Yak’s revived messaging app was supposed to bring back the days of truly anonymous local chat, but it may have inadvertently made life easier for creeps. Computer science student David Teather informedMotherboard that Yik Yak had a flaw that let attackers obtain both the precise location for posts (within 10 to 15 feet) and users’ unique IDs. Blend the two pieces of info and it’s possible to track a user’s movement patterns.

Teather used a proxy tool to determine that YikYak sent both the precise GPS position and user ID with every message, even if users would normally only see vague distances and city identifiers. An independent researcher verified the findings for Motherboard, although it’s not clear if anyone has exploited the flaw so far.

Yik Yak hasn’t responded to requests for comment so far. The developer released three updates between April 28th and May 10th, but it’s not yet certain if they completely address exposed locations. However, it’s safe to say that the issue left users at risk, especially if they shared any sensitive information with local chatters.

Source: Engadget – Anonymous social app Yik Tak left users’ precise locations exposed

Twitter CEO says he expects Musk deal to close but is 'prepared for all scenarios'

Hours after Elon Musk said his Twitter buyout is temporarily on hold, Twitter’s CEO has said he still expects the deal to close, but “we need to be prepared for all scenarios.” In a series of tweets, Parag Agrawal didn’t directly address Musk’s earlier comments but he weighed in on yesterday’s leadership shakeup, which resulted in the firing of two senior Twitter executives.

The move had raised eyebrows not just because the two were popular longtime leaders at the company, but because many don’t expect Agrawal to keep the CEO job after the acquisition is finalized. (Musk has said he has no confidence in Twitter’s current leadership and reports suggest Musk intends to take over the CEO role at least temporarily.)

“Changes impacting people are always hard,” Agrawal said. “And some have been asking why a ‘lame-duck’ CEO would make these changes if we’re getting acquired anyway. The short answer is very simple: While I expect the deal to close, we need to be prepared for all scenarios and always do what’s right for Twitter.”

Notably, Agrawal’s comments would seem to acknowledge the possibility that Musk’s buyout may not actually go through. The Tesla CEO, who has said ridding Twitter of bots is one of his top goals, stated earlier in the day that the deal was “temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users.” He later added that he was “still committed to the acquisition.”

Meanwhile, Twitter is also trying to navigate widespread uncertainty among employees, many of whom are uneasy about Musk’s plans for the company. In addition to cutting its top revenue and product executives Thursday, the company is also pausing all new hiring and rescinding some job offers, in an effort to cut costs.

Agrawal said Friday that he would continue “making hard decisions as needed.” “I won’t use the deal as an excuse to avoid making important decisions for the health of the company, nor will any leader at Twitter,” he tweeted.

Source: Engadget – Twitter CEO says he expects Musk deal to close but is ‘prepared for all scenarios’

Biden administration launches $45 billion plan to get the entire US online by 2030

The Biden administration has formally started its $45 billion effort to bring affordable and reliable high-speed broadband internet access to everyone in the US by 2030. The Internet for All funding is part of the $65 billion earmarked for broadband in the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Starting today, states and other entities can apply for funding from three Internet for All programs.

“In the 21st century, you simply cannot participate in the economy if you don’t have access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who is overseeing the distribution of the funds, said. “Thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Americans across the country will no longer be held back by a lack of high-speed internet access. We are going to ensure every American will have access to technologies that allow them to attend class, start a small business, visit with their doctor and participate in the modern economy.”

States could use the funding to install fiber-optic cables, put more Wi-Fi networks in place or even offer some people free broadband internet access. The launch of the program follows news earlier this week that the Biden administration has teamed up with 20 providers to offer subsidized internet service to low-income households.

Most of the Internet for All funding will be available from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program. States and other territories will need to file a letter of intent and a budget for planning funds. They’ll then receive $5 million in planning funds to help them put together a five-year plan detailing how they’ll provide comprehensive internet access to all residents.

Each state that takes part in the program will receive at least $100 million from the BEAD pot of $42.5 billion. After that, funding allocations will be decided in part based on updated broadband coverage maps that the Federal Communications Commission is expected to release this fall.

Under the $1 billion Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, funding will be allocated based on a “technology-neutral, competitive basis” to build, buy or improve infrastructure elements that carry “large amounts of data at high speeds over long distances.” As for the $1.5 billion State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, that’s designed to bolster adoption and use of the internet with the help of digital literacy training.

Source: Engadget – Biden administration launches billion plan to get the entire US online by 2030

Apple is reportedly testing USB-C iPhones

Apple may be about to change the iPhone’s charging port. According to a Bloomberg report, the company is testing new iPhones and adapters with USB-C, which is what MacBooks and iPads already use, not to mention a plethora of devices outside the Apple ecosystem. We’ve reached out to Apple for confirmation and have yet to receive a response.

Bloomberg’s sources said that the adapter being tested may “let future iPhones work with accessories designed for the current Lightning connector.” That could mean a Lightning-to-USB-C adapter for things like credit card scanners or flash drives that plug into existing iPhones. Bloomberg‘s report noted that if Apple “proceeds with the change, it wouldn’t occur until 2023 at the earliest.” 

While Apple’s decisions to change ports have been the subject of many jokes in popular culture, a move to USB-C may actually be welcome. The more widely available standard is only slightly bigger than Lightning, but can deliver power and data more quickly. The change could also make life much easier for those who already use USB-C to charge most of their devices and still have to carry a Lightning cable with them just for their iPhones. 

Apple’s motivations for the potential change may not be completely altruistic. The EU has been pushing for a universal phone charging standard for years, and recently proposed legislation that would make USB-C the mandated port for all handsets. Testing USB-C on iPhones would just be Apple recognizing the writing on the wall. 

Source: Engadget – Apple is reportedly testing USB-C iPhones

Peloton teases its first connected rowing machine

Peloton is still busy expanding its connected fitness lineup despite its ongoing financial woes. The company has teased plans to introduce its first rowing machine, promising a mix of cardio and strength training. The company didn’t go into detail during its Homecoming 2022 event, but a sneak peek video (below) shows that it’s largely what you’d expect — a minimalist rower with a large screen to show classes and stats.

There was no mention of a release date or price for the rowing machine. Peloton previewed features for existing products, though. You can soon schedule workouts with friends through the app, Bike or Tread. Blind and low-vision users will get to navigate the Tread’s interface through the Google TalkBack screen reader. And you’ll finally have the option to track cycling, running and other workouts through the Peloton app. You won’t have to participate in a class just to have exercise count toward member challenges and streaks.

The expansion comes just days after Peloton revealed a massive $751.1 million loss in its latest quarter, not to mention dropping revenue. The company has been struggling to adapt to the pandemic recovery as people return to gyms and the office, and the combination of price cuts and the Guide camera hasn’t done much to turn things around. The rowing machine is a gamble in that regard, as Peloton is clearly hoping more aggressive investments now will pay off in the long term.

With that said, it may be a shrewd move. The smart rowing machine market is relatively small, with brands like Echelon and Hydrow leading the pack. Peloton might carve out a signification position in that market through name recognition and its well-known classes.

Source: Engadget – Peloton teases its first connected rowing machine

Scientists grow plants in soil from the Moon for the first time

Scientists from the University of Florida have completed a world (and lunar) first by growing plants in soil from the Moon. The researchers used samples obtained by the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions, but they didn’t have much to work with.

While a total of 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of soil and rocks has been brought back to Earth from the Moon, the researchers received just 12 grams of so-called “lunar regolith” from NASA. Still, that was more than the four grams they requested. Scientists Rob Ferl and Anna-Lisa Paul had to be patient to get their hands on the soil as well — they applied three times over 11 years for the samples.

The team used thimble-sized wells in plastic plates, which are typically used to culture cells, as pots. The scientists placed a gram of soil into each of these, added a nutrient solution and then placed a few thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) seeds. They planted the seeds in other types of soil as part of a control group, including simulated Martian soil, soils from extreme environments and a substance that mimics lunar soil.

Nearly all of the seeds planted in the lunar regolith sprouted, but the plants eventually showed some differences from the ones grown in the control group. Some of the Moon dirt plants grew slower or were smaller. There was more variation in sizes than with the control group cress as well.

The scientists, who published their research in the journal Communications Biology, found that differences in the makeup of the lunar soil samples appear to have impacted the growth of the plants. They determined the cress that struggled the most was grown in what’s known as mature lunar soil, which is exposed to more cosmic wind.

In particular, as The Guardian notes, samples from Apollo 11 were deemed the least effective for growing plants. Those were obtained from the older surface of the Sea of Tranquility, which had a couple of billion years more exposure to the environment. The researchers wrote that “further characterization and optimization would be required before regolith can be considered a routine in situ resource, particularly in locations where the regolith is highly mature.”

Still, the success of the experiment paves the way for the possibility of growing plants on the Moon for food and oxygen, ahead of NASA’s Artemis Program taking humans back to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972. “Artemis will require a better understanding of how to grow plants in space,” Ferl, one of the paper’s authors and a distinguished professor of horticultural sciences in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said.