Businesses

How Your Returns Are Used Against You At Best Buy, Other Retailers (nbcnews.com) 201

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): At Best Buy, returning too many items within a short time can hurt a person's score, as can returning high-theft items such as digital cameras. Every time shoppers returns purchases to Best Buy, they are tracked by a company which has the power to override the store's touted policy and refuse to refund their money. That is because the electronics giant is one of several chains that have hired a service called The Retail Equation to score customers' shopping behavior and impose limits on the amount of merchandise they can return. Stores have long used generous return guidelines to lure more customers, but such policies also invite abuse. Retailers estimate 11% of their sales are returned, and of those, 11% are likely fraudulent returns, according to a 2017 survey of 63 retailers by the National Retail Federation. Return fraud or abuse occurs when customers exploit the return process, such as requesting a refund for items they have used, stolen or bought somewhere else.

Amazon.com Inc. and other online players that have made it easy to return items have changed consumer expectations, adding pressure on brick-and-mortar chains. Some retailers monitor return fraud in-house, but Best Buy and others pay The Retail Equation to track and score each customer's return behavior for both in-store and online purchases. The service also works with Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Sephora and Victoria's Secret. Some retailers use the system only to assess returns made without a receipt. Best Buy uses The Retail Equation to assess all returns, even those made with a receipt.

Power

Amazon Recalls 260,000 Portable Power Banks For Fire Hazard (cnbc.com) 31

Amazon is recalling 260,000 AmazonBasics portable power banks that can "overheat and ignite," according to a release by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The company has received more than 50 reports of the power banks overheating in the U.S., causing chemical burns and property damage. CNBC reports: "Consumers should immediately unplug and stop using the recalled power banks and contact Amazon for instructions on how to return the unit and receive a full refund," the release says. Amazon is contacting everyone who purchased one of the affected devices. The recall covers six versions of the AmazonBasics portable battery: 16,100 mAh; 10,000 mAh; 5,600 mAh; 2,000 mAh with micro USB cable; 3,000 mAh; and 3,000 mAh with USB micro cable.
Apple

Apple Is Letting Companies Make 3.5mm To Lightning Cables Now (9to5mac.com) 110

Apple has updated the specs for its Made-For-iPhone accessories program, letting accessory makers put USB-C ports on licensed devices, as well as create 3.5mm to Lightning cables for the first time. 9to5Mac reports: With the new specs, companies in the MFi program can now include USB-C receptacles on their officially certified iOS and Mac accessories for charging. That allows users to charge MFi accessories with a USB-C cable and or power adapter they might already have, for example, and also draw power from the USB port on a Mac using the same cable. It also has other advantages for manufacturers. Apple's documentation for the new specs lists battery packs and speakers as products that could benefit from using a USB-C receptacle. Products are also allowed to bundle USB-C cables with the MFi accessories, but manufacturers can opt to not include a cable or adapter and reduce their costs and or price in the process. Unlike with Lightning receptacles, Apple does not allow the port to be used for passthrough charging or sync of an iOS device. Also, new for accessory makers is the ability to create a Lightning to 3.5mm stereo analog audio output plug, which would allow users to go direct from the Lightning port to a 3.5mm input on another device.
Privacy

ACLU Sues TSA Over Electronic Device Searches (techcrunch.com) 115

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration over its alleged practices of searching the electronic devices of passengers traveling on domestic flights. "The federal government's policies on searching the phones, laptops, and tablets of domestic air passengers remain shrouded in secrecy," ACLU Foundation of Northern California attorney Vasudha Talla said in a blog post. "TSA is searching the electronic devices of domestic passengers, but without offering any reason for the search," Talla added. "We don't know why the government is singling out some passengers, and we don't know what exactly TSA is searching on the devices. Our phones and laptops contain very personal information, and the federal government should not be digging through our digital data without a warrant." TechCrunch reports: The lawsuit, which is directed toward the TSA field offices in San Francisco and its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, specifically asks the TSA to hand over records related to its policies, procedures and/or protocols pertaining to the search of electronic devices. This lawsuit comes after a number of reports came in pertaining to the searches of electronic devices of passengers traveling domestically. The ACLU also wants to know what equipment the TSA uses to search, examine and extract any data from passengers' devices, as well as what kind of training TSA officers receive around screening and searching the devices. The ACLU says it first filed FOIA requests back in December, but TSA "subsequently improperly withheld the requested records," the ACLU wrote in a blog post today.
Android

Lenovo Lays Off a Chunk of Its Motorola Smartphone Team 48

On Friday, Lenovo confirmed layoffs for the Motorola group in Chicago, where the company designs its modular Moto Z smartphones. "In a statement to 9to5Google, Lenovo denied that it was axing 50% of the workforce, as the site had suggested, but didn't provide any further specifics," reports Fast Company. Android Police now reports that 190 people were laid off. A separate report of theirs claims that the company has "completely abandoned plans to launch the successor to last year's Moto X4, the as-yet unannounced Moto X5." Furthermore, "Motorola will be narrowing its focus back to E, G, and Z phones for the time being," reports Android Police. "It's possible the Moto X name could return at some point, but that's looking unlikely in light of this news." The source also says Motorola will be largely discontinuing its efforts to develop all-new, eccentric MotoMods for its Z phone. The likelihood that MotoMods will continue to be sold after 2019 is looking very slim.
Patents

Apple Files Patent For a Crumb-Resistant MacBook Keyboard (digitaltrends.com) 91

According to a patent application made public on Thursday, March 8, Apple could be developing a new MacBook keyboard designed to prevent crumbs and dust from getting those super-shallow MacBook keys stuck. "Liquid ingress around the keys into the keyboard can damage electronics. Residues from such liquids may corrode or block electrical contacts, getting in the way of key movement and so on," the patent application reads. Digital Trends reports: The application goes on to describe how those problems might be remedied: With the careful application of gaskets, brushes, wipers, or flaps that block gaps beneath keycaps. One solution would include a membrane beneath each key, effectively insulating the interior of the keyboard from the exterior, while another describes using each keypress as a "bellows" to force contaminants out of the keyboard. "A keyboard assembly [could include] a substrate, a key cap, and a guard structure extending from the key cap that funnels contaminants away from the movement mechanism," the patent application reads.
Bitcoin

Qarnot Unveils a Cryptocurrency Heater For Your Home (techcrunch.com) 65

Qarnot, the French startup known for using Ryzen Pro processors to heat homes and offices for free, is unveiling a new computing heater specifically made for cryptocurrency mining. "The QC1 is a heater for your home that features a passive computer inside," reports TechCrunch. "And this computer is optimized for mining." From the report: The QC1 features two AMD GPUs (Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX580 with 8GB of VRAM) and is designed to mine Ethers by default. You can set it up in a few minutes by plugging an Ethernet cable and putting your Ethereum wallet address in the mobile app. You'll then gradually receive ethers on this address -- Qarnot doesn't receive any coin, you keep 100 percent of your cryptocurrencies. If you believe Litecoin or another cryptocurrency is the future, you can also access the computer and mine another cryptocurrency. It's a Linux server and you can access it directly. If your home is cold and you desperately need to turn on the heaters, the QC1 is going to turn on the two GPUs and mine at a 60 MH/s speed. There are also traditional heating conductors in case those two GPUs are not enough. Qarnot heaters don't have any hard drive and rely on passive heating. You won't hear any fan buzzing in the background. You can order the QC1 for $3,600 starting today -- you can also pay in bitcoins. The company hopes to sell hundreds of QC1 in the next year.
Government

California Becomes 18th State To Consider Right To Repair Legislation (vice.com) 96

Jason Koebler shares a report from Motherboard: The right to repair battle has come to Silicon Valley's home state: Wednesday, a state assembly member announced that California would become the 18th state in the country to consider legislation that would make it easier to repair your electronics. "The Right to Repair Act will provide consumers with the freedom to have their electronic products and appliances fixed by a repair shop or service provider of their choice, a practice that was taken for granted a generation ago but is now becoming increasingly rare in a world of planned obsolescence," Susan Talamantes Engman, a Democrat from Stockton who introduced the bill, said in a statement. The announcement had been rumored for about a week but became official Wednesday. The bill would require electronics manufacturers to make repair guides and repair parts available to the public and independent repair professionals and would also would make diagnostic software and tools that are available to authorized and first-party repair technicians available to independent companies.
Android

Android P Drops Support For Nexus Phones, Pixel Tablet (theverge.com) 86

Google has launched the first developer preview of Android P, the company's new mobile operating system that brings new features and improvements over Android Oreo. Unfortunately, developers will only have a small set of blessed hardware to choose from with Android P: the Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, and Pixel 2 XL. Google's Nexus smartphones and Pixel C tablet will not get Android P when it's fully released. The Verge reports: Eventually, Android P will ship on new phones from other manufacturers, along with the handful of handsets that third-parties bother to update, but there are a couple Android mainstays that won't get to enjoy this marvelous future: Google's Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P phones, and the oft-forgotten Pixel C tablet. As Ars Technica confirmed with Google, those devices won't be getting Android P when it's released fully. Also, as Android Police notes, there's no Developer Preview image for the Nexus Player, which came out in 2014, so it might be done getting updates as well. It's 2018, and we're beyond the two years of major OS update support these devices were promised, so this isn't hugely surprising. All three devices will continue to get monthly security updates through at least November of this year, but they'll remain stuck on Android 8.1 for an underlying OS as far as official Google updates go.
Cellphones

FBI Again Calls For Magical Solution To Break Into Encrypted Phones (arstechnica.com) 232

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: FBI Director Christopher Wray again has called for a solution to what the bureau calls the "Going Dark" problem, the idea that the prevalence of default strong encryption on digital devices makes it more difficult for law enforcement to extract data during an investigation. However, in a Wednesday speech at Boston College, Wray again did not outline any specific piece of legislation or technical solution that would provide both strong encryption and allow the government to access encrypted devices when it has a warrant. A key escrow system, with which the FBI or another entity would be able to unlock a device given a certain set of circumstances, is by definition weaker than what cryptographers would traditionally call "strong encryption." There's also the problem of how to compel device and software makers to impose such a system on their customers -- similar efforts were attempted during the Clinton administration, but they failed. A consensus of technical experts has said that what the FBI has asked for is impossible. "I recognize this entails varying degrees of innovation by the industry to ensure lawful access is available," Wray said Wednesday. "But I just don't buy the claim that it's impossible. Let me be clear: the FBI supports information security measures, including strong encryption. Actually, the FBI is on the front line fighting cyber crime and economic espionage. But information security programs need to be thoughtfully designed so they don't undermine the lawful tools we need to keep the American people safe."
Intel

Modders Get Intel's Coffee Lake CPUs To Run On Incompatible Motherboards (pcgamer.com) 83

Paul Lilly reports via PC Gamer: It took some time and a whole lot of tweaking, but modders have finally figured out a way to get Intel's Coffee Lake processors running on older motherboards based on Intel's Z270 and Z170 chipsets. Even though Coffee Lake is pin compatible with older LGA 1151 motherboards, the official word from Intel is that the power requirements differ, and as such Coffee Lake only works in newer motherboards based on Intel's Z370 chipset. [T]here is a forum post on Overclock.net that outlines how it can be done. It is a fairly involved process and specific to ASRock motherboards, which the modders claim "have proven to work well" with the steps that are outlined. In short, getting a Coffee Lake processor to run in an older motherboard requires making tweaks to the CPU's microcode, the iGPU's UEFI GOP driver, and some Management Engine bootstraps. The modders were able to get a Core i3-8300 processor to boot in a couple of older boards, but not a Core i7-8700 chip. That is a higher core chip, of course -- six cores instead of four -- which seems to suggest that the power issue is related to driving higher core counts.
Privacy

FBI Paid Geek Squad Repair Staff As Informants (zdnet.com) 205

According to newly released documents by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, federal agents would pay Geek Squad employees to flag illegal materials on devices sent in by customers for repairs. "The relationship goes back at least ten years, according to documents released as a result of the lawsuit [filed last year]," reports ZDNet. "The agency's Louisville division aim was to maintain a 'close liaison' with Geek Squad management to 'glean case initiations and to support the division's Computer Intrusion and Cyber Crime programs.'" From the report: According to the EFF's analysis of the documents, FBI agents would "show up, review the images or video and determine whether they believe they are illegal content" and seize the device so an additional analysis could be carried out at a local FBI field office. That's when, in some cases, agents would try to obtain a search warrant to justify the access. The EFF's lawsuit was filed in response to a report that a Geek Squad employee was used as an informant by the FBI in the prosecution of child pornography case. The documents show that the FBI would regularly use Geek Squad employees as confidential human sources -- the agency's term for informants -- by taking calls from employees when they found something suspect.
Android

Google Lens Is Coming To All Android Phones Running Google Photos (theverge.com) 57

Google announced that Google Lens, a machine learning-powered image analyzer, will be rolling out to more Android devices and make an appearance on iOS. "This means users will be able to scan things through the app to receive information, like a dog's breed or a flower type," reports The Verge. Some phones will also be able to access Lens through the Google Assistant too, including flagships from Samsung, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Sony, and HMD / Nokia. "Google says Lens is rolling out in batches, so you might not get the update right away," reports The Verge.
Robotics

Flippy the Robot Takes Over Burger Duties At California Restaurant (ktla.com) 226

Chain eatery CaliBurger announced today that its location in Pasadena is the first to employ Flippy, a burger-flipping robot developed by Miso Robotics. The robot is able to take over the cooking duties after a human puts the patties on the grill. KTLA reports: "The kitchen of the future will always have people in it, but we see that kitchen as having people and robots," said David Zito, co-founder and chief executive officer of Miso Robotics. Flippy uses thermal imaging, 3D and camera vision to sense when to flip -- and when to remove. "It detects the temperature of the patty, the size of the patty and the temperature of the grill surface," explained Zito. The device also learns through artificial intelligence -- basically, the more burgers that Flippy flips, the smarter it gets. Right now, cheese and toppings are added by a co-worker. CaliBurger CEO John Miller says the robot can cut down on costs as it will work a position that has a high turnover rate. "It's not a fun job -- it's hot, it's greasy, it's dirty," said Miller about the grill cook position. Less turnover means less time training new grill cooks. Flippy costs about $60,000 minimum and is expected to be used at other CaliBurger locations soon.
Music

Apple Is Reportedly Making Its Own High-End Noise-Cancelling Headphones (bloomberg.com) 87

Apple is planning to push into the high-end audio market with the launch of noise-cancelling, over-ear headphones. The cans are expected to launch at the end of this year and will rival headsets from market leaders like Bose and even the company's own Beats by Dre brand. Bloomberg reports: Work on the Apple headset has been on-and-off over the past year. The company encountered similar problems with the HomePod during its development, including multiple redesigns, according to the people. It's possible Apple will redesign the headphones again before launch, or scrap the project altogether, they warned, asking not to be identified discussing private development work.
Communications

New LTE Attacks Can Snoop On Messages, Track Locations, and Spoof Emergency Alerts (zdnet.com) 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: A slew of newly discovered vulnerabilities can wreak havoc on 4G LTE network users by eavesdropping on phone calls and text messages, knocking devices offline, and even spoofing emergency alerts. Ten attacks detailed in a new paper by researchers at Purdue University and the University of Iowa expose weaknesses in three critical protocol operations of the cellular network, such as securely attaching a device to the network and maintaining a connection to receive calls and messages. Those flaws can allow authentication relay attacks that can allow an adversary to connect to a 4G LTE network by impersonating an existing user -- such as a phone number. Although authentication relay attacks aren't new, this latest research shows that they can be used to intercept message, track a user's location, and stop a phone from connecting to the network. By using common software-defined radio devices and open source 4G LTE protocol software, anyone can build the tool to carry out attacks for as little as $1,300 to $3,900, making the cost low enough for most adversaries. The researchers aren't releasing the proof-of-concept code until the flaws are fixed, however.
Portables (Apple)

Apple To Release a Cheaper MacBook Air Later This Year (9to5mac.com) 149

According to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities, Apple doesn't appear to be axing its MacBook Air line, despite it being on the market for ten years. Kuo says Apple is planning to release a 13-inch MacBook Air "with a lower price tag" during the second quarter of 2018, which should help push MacBook shipments up by 10-15 percent this year. 9to5Mac reports: Details on the new MacBook Air are sparse, but this report from KGI corroborates a similarly vague report from Digitimes earlier this year. The MacBook Air line has been largely stagnate in recent years as Apple has shifted focus towards the 12-inch MacBook and MacBook Pro. Currently, Apple sells the 13-inch MacBook Air starting at $999, and KGI seems to think it will get even cheaper this year. Despite its neglect by Apple, the MacBook Air remains a popular choice for college students.
Businesses

Amazon Buys Smart Doorbell Maker Ring For a Reported $1 Billion (cnbc.com) 90

hyperclocker shares a report from CNBC: Amazon is buying smart doorbell maker Ring, a deal that will allow the company to expand its home security and in-house delivery services. In an email statement to CNBC, Ring's spokesperson confirmed the deal, saying: "We'll be able to achieve even more by partnering with an inventive, customer-centric company like Amazon. We look forward to being a part of the Amazon team as we work toward our vision for safer neighborhoods." Amazon is expected to keep Ring as an independent business, much like it has with its other acquisitions, like Zappos and Twitch, according to GeekWire, which earlier reported details of the deal. Financial details of the move were not disclosed, but Reuters reported it could be worth more than $1 billion, making it one of the largest acquisitions in Amazon's history.
Patents

New Apple Patent Imagines an OLED Screen As a Keyboard For MacBooks (theverge.com) 119

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted Apple a patent titled "dual display equipment with enhanced visibility and suppressed reflections." The documentation for what is patent number 9,904,502 outlines a device that would use a second display as a dynamic keyboard. Two implementations of this design are described in the patent application, according to Patently Apple. The first utilizes a permanent hinge, while the second allows the screen to be removed and used separately, along the lines of Microsoft's Surface Pro range and other two-in-one computers. The patent documentation makes it clear that the implementation is not intended as an accessory that would allow two iPads to be paired together, with one serving as the keyboard. Additionally, illustrations associated with the application explicitly state that one screen is an OLED display, while the other is an LCD. A double-display set-up could provide easy access to a different keyboard layout language, context-sensitive controls, or even a large sketching surface to use in conjunction with something like an Apple Pencil. However, that flexibility would come at the cost of the traditional typing experience offered by a mechanical keyboard.
Operating Systems

Apple To Suspend iTunes Store Support For 'Obsolete' First-Gen Apple TV (arstechnica.com) 123

The original Apple TV, first introduced in 2007, will no longer be able to connect to the iTunes Store due to new security changes to be implemented by Apple. The news comes from a support document, which also mentions that PCs running Windows XP or Windows Vista will lose access to the most recent version of iTunes. Ars Technica reports: According to the document, the "obsolete" original Apple TV won't be updated in the future to support access to the iTunes Store. After May 25, users will only be able to access iTunes on second-generation Apple TVs and newer streaming devices. The same security changes affecting the first-gen Apple TV will also affect Windows XP and Vista machines. Users on such devices can still run previous versions of iTunes, so they should still be able to play their music library without problems. However, affected users won't be able to make new iTunes purchases or re-download previous purchases. Only machines running Windows 7 or later after May 25 will have full access to iTunes, including the ability to make new purchases and re-download older purchases.

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