All posts in “Business”

Apple CEO demands Bloomberg retract its Chinese surveillance story

Apple had long denied that it had purchased compromised servers manufactured in China that would have made it a victim to government surveillance after Bloomberg Businessweek broke the story, and now CEO Tim Cook is demanding the publication to retract its report. The publication alleged that the compromised servers, discovered as early as 2015, would have given China a backdoor into the private networks of U.S. corporations and government agencies and that Apple had severed its relationship with San Jose, California-based Super Micro as a result of this breach of trust.

“I feel they should retract their story,” Cook told Buzzfeed about the Bloomberg story. “There is no truth in their story about Apple. They need to do that right thing.” Cook also took issue at lack of evidence in Bloomberg’s report. Cook said that Bloomberg reporters did not provide his company with specific details about the chips that were alleged to have been discovered and removed.

Following Bloomberg’s report, Apple conducted a thorough internal investigation, with Cook claiming that Apple “turned the company upside down.” Ultimately, Apple was unable to find any evidence after “email searches, data center records, financial records, shipment records.”

“I was involved in our response to this story from the beginning,” Cook told Buzzfeed. “I personally talked to the Bloomberg reporters along with Bruce Sewell, who was then our general counsel. We were very clear with them that this did not happen, and answered all their questions. Each time they brought this up to us, the story changed, and each time we investigated we found nothing.”

Bloomberg claimed that Apple, Amazon, and as many as 30 U.S. businesses and government agencies, had purchased compromised servers from Super Micro that contained an embedded chip allowing Chinese surveillance. Apple, Amazon, and Super Micro also refuted Bloomberg’s story following their own internal investigations.

Cook’s denial mirrors earlier statements released by Apple Vice President of Information Security George Stathakopoulos in a prior letter sent to U.S. lawmakers addressing the issue.

“Apple’s proprietary security tools are continuously scanning for precisely this kind of outbound traffic, as it indicates the existence of malware or other malicious activity. Nothing was ever found,” he wrote in the letter to both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, quoted by Reuters. Apple’s assertions were previously supported by Britain’s Cyber Security Center and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Bloomberg defended its story, noting that its report was a result of more than a year of investigation and conducting more than 100 interviews. “Seventeen individual sources, including government officials and insiders at the companies, confirmed the manipulation of hardware and other elements of the attacks,” Bloomberg Businessweek told Buzzfeed. “We also published three companies’ full statements, as well as a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We stand by our story and are confident in our reporting and sources.”

Updated on October 19, 2018: Apple CEO Tim Cook refutes the Bloomberg story, demands a retraction. 

Angee’s security service switches from sales to subscriptions

We’ve written about Angee before — it’s a smart home security device-slash-service that raised more than half a million dollars in its crowdfunding campaign. Now it appears that the multinational startup is pivoting to a subscription model instead of simply selling its security hardware to smart home users.

Billing its new offering as a “cloud subscription service,” Angee has shifted from selling its $300-ish home security hub to offering it with no upfront hardware or installation costs for subscriptions that start at $17 per month.

“We are very excited about the launch of our subscription service as we believe it is addressing the needs of millions of U.S. households looking for smart, plug & play security,” Angee CEO Tomas Turek said in a release.

In a smart home market dominated by a wave of new security devices, smart cameras, and even body heat sensors, Angee is making a bold move by selling smart home security as a service, rather than as a product. There are definitely some advantages to Angee’s approach: No complex installations, long-term contracts or dependencies on installation labor.

Angee has already started fulfilling its Kickstarter and Indiegogo-based pre-orders, so no word on how that will affect those customers.

The Angee home security system uses a proprietary 360-degree camera and motion-detection tags to monitor any home, in concert with an app that logs activity in the home for the user to monitor. Currently, the two subscription plans are “Basic,” at $17 per month, and “Extended,” which adds an additional two motion-detection tags for $20 per month. Both plans offer unlimited cloud storage, the hardware unit that includes the camera, access to real-time alerts, and more. Users can cancel their plan at any time.

The company initially planned to launch Angee as a hardware device that would retail at more than $400, so the decision to pivot to a subscription model is definitely a strategic one. The company still faces significant competition from Nest, Canary, and similar startup projects aimed at the smart home security market.

Other notable features of the hardware include a built-in battery that enables the system to operate during power outages, voice control, day-and-night modes that can tell the difference between a midnight snack and a break-in, and the ability to differentiate between humans and pets.

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SiriusXM, Amazon team up for two Echo Dot deals with freebies

SiriusXM is going all out for new subscribers.  The streaming audio content provider partnered with Amazon to announce two Echo Dot-related promotions.

In the first promotion from the partnership, new SiriusXM subscribers who prepay six months get a free Amazon Echo Dot.  The second promotion offers three months free for new subscribers who already own an Amazon Alexa-compatible smart speaker.

We outline the details for each of the SiriusXM/Amazon Alexa-related offerings below.

Subscribe to SiriusXM and get a free Echo Dot

If you sign up for a new SiriusXM Premier Streaming or All Access subscription and pay six months up front, you get a bargain rate for those months plus a new third-generation Echo Dot for no charge. The upfront charge for six months is $50, which is also the retail cost for a new Dot.

The current monthly rate for SiriusXM’s Premier Streaming plan is $16. Six months at the non-promotional rates would normally cost $96, so with this deal, you’ll save 48 percent and get the latest version of the Alexa-compatible Echo Dot. The All Access monthly charge is $21, or $126 for six months, so the promotion is a 60 percent savings.

The SiriusXM Premier Streaming plan includes listening to more than 200 channels, access to content in the SiriusXM On Demand library, and SiriusXM video. All content is available both online and on the SiriusXM mobile app.

The Sirius All Access package lets you listen to content online, on mobile devices, and in your car. All Access includes more than 175 channels and all available streaming content.

If you already subscribe to SiriusXM with one of the less inclusive content plans, such as the Mostly Music or Select package, you can still take advantage of the free Echo promotion by upgrading your subscription to the Premier Streaming plan. The upgrade plan is not available with the All Access package.

Echo device owners get SiriusXM free for three months

What if you already own an Echo, Dot, Echo Show, or another Echo voice command device? If you sign up for a new SiriusXM Premier Streaming or All Access plan from the Amazon website, you will get the first three months of your subscription at no charge.

Starting with the fourth month of your SiriusXM subscription, you will be charged the applicable regular rate, $16 for the Premier Streaming plan or $21 for the All Access plan. Current SiriusXM subscribers cannot take advantage of the three-months-free promotion; it’s for new subscribers only, regardless of the package.

SiriusXM has been on a winning roll in 2018. The streaming service giant recently agreed to acquire Pandora for $3.5 billion in an all-stock deal. As we wrote earlier in the year,  the company dominates Spotify and, counting its partnerships with automakers and other businesses, SiriusXM is far and away the most successful streaming service, for now.

SiriusXM, Amazon team up with two Echo Dot deals with freebies

SiriusXM is going all out for new subscribers.  The streaming audio content provider partnered with Amazon to announce two Echo Dot-related promotions.

In the first promotion from the partnership, new SiriusXM subscribers who prepay six months get a free Amazon Echo Dot.  The second promotion offers three months free for new subscribers who already own an Amazon Alexa-compatible smart speaker.

We outline the details for each of the SiriusXM/Amazon Alexa-related offerings below.

Subscribe to SiriusXM and get a free Echo Dot

If you sign up for a new SiriusXM Premier Streaming or All Access subscription and pay six months up front, you get a bargain rate for those months plus a new third-generation Echo Dot for no charge. The upfront charge for six months is $50, which is also the retail cost for a new Dot.

The current monthly rate for SiriusXM’s Premier Streaming plan is $16. Six months at the non-promotional rates would normally cost $96, so with this deal, you’ll save 48 percent and get the latest version of the Alexa-compatible Echo Dot. The All Access monthly charge is $21, or $126 for six months, so the promotion is a 60 percent savings.

The SiriusXM Premier Streaming plan includes listening to more than 200 channels, access to content in the SiriusXM On Demand library, and SiriusXM video. All content is available both online and on the SiriusXM mobile app.

The Sirius All Access package lets you listen to content online, on mobile devices, and in your car. All Access includes more than 175 channels and all available streaming content.

If you already subscribe to SiriusXM with one of the less inclusive content plans, such as the Mostly Music or Select package, you can still take advantage of the free Echo promotion by upgrading your subscription to the Premier Streaming plan. The upgrade plan is not available with the All Access package.

Echo device owners get SiriusXM free for three months

What if you already own an Echo, Dot, Echo Show, or another Echo voice command device? If you sign up for a new SiriusXM Premier Streaming or All Access plan from the Amazon website, you will get the first three months of your subscription at no charge.

Starting with the fourth month of your SiriusXM subscription, you will be charged the applicable regular rate, $16 for the Premier Streaming plan or $21 for the All Access plan. Current SiriusXM subscribers cannot take advantage of the three-months-free promotion; it’s for new subscribers only, regardless of the package.

SiriusXM has been on a winning roll in 2018. The streaming service giant recently agreed to acquire Pandora for $3.5 billion in an all-stock deal. As we wrote earlier in the year,  the company dominates Spotify and, counting its partnerships with automakers and other businesses, SiriusXM is far and away the most successful streaming service, for now.

Google may charge up to $40 per Android device for app suite following EU ruling

Recently, it was reported that Google is set to significantly change how it works with Android manufacturers, at least in Europe. Rather than having the ability to load Google’s apps and services onto their Android phones for free, the company will begin to charge device makers that want to use its main Google apps. According to documents obtained by The Verge, that fee apparently will be as much as $40 per device in order to install the “Google Mobile Services” suite of apps.

The report goes on to mention that the new fees will vary based on the type of device and on the country, and will go into effect on devices activated on or after February 1, 2019. The pricing documents show that in Germany, the U.K., Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands, a device that has a pixel density that’s higher than 500 ppi would pay the $40 fee in order to license the suite of apps, while devices with 400 to 500 ppi pay $20. Meanwhile, any device that’s under 400 ppi would be charged $10 and lower-end phones would cost as low as $2.50 per device.

The Verge notes that it’s unclear why pixel density effects pricing, but this could be based on the fact that higher pixel density is normally associated with more highly priced devices. Tablets, on the other hand, could have a different set of pricing across countries of up to $20 per device. A source close to the matter claims that while manufacturers might be able to negotiate separate deals, the prices wouldn’t vary that much between them.

Manufacturers who don’t pre-install Chrome, however, might lose out on search revenue tied to the browser. With the new agreement, Google will only pay search-revenue sharing fees if Chrome is pre-installed and specifically placed on the home screen dock.

The move comes as a response to a July ruling in the European Union which ordered Google to stop “illegally tying” Google Chrome and some search-related apps to Android. Companies will now be able to license Chrome, the Play Store, and other Google mobile apps rather than being required to bundle all of them together. Companies will also be able to license Google apps for forked versions of Android, which may make for more phones with alternative versions of Android.

Traditionally, Google hasn’t charged for the use of these apps because of how much money it makes from search and Chrome. Being required to stop tying them together, though, changes how much money Google could potentially make from them.

“Since the pre-installation of Google Search and Chrome together with our other apps helped us fund the development and free distribution of Android, we will introduce a new paid licensing agreement for smartphones and tablets shipped into the [European Economic Area],” Android head Hiroshi Lockheimer said in a blog post.

It’s important to note that Android as a whole will still be free — it’s just that now those apps that we most often associate with Android may not be. Not only that, but those apps may not come pre-installed on every Android device — so if you want them, you may have to download them separately.

Ultimately, Android device manufacturers may still be tied to Google. They will likely still need to license the use of the Google Play Store, where users can download all of the Google apps that otherwise would have come with their phone. Not only that, but it’s possible Google will be able to continue bundling all of its apps together in the future — the company is appealing the European Commission’s decision. Still, in the meantime, it has to comply with the decision, and as such the changes will go into effect starting on October 29.

Updated October 19: Documents indicate Google app suite may reportedly cost $40 per phone under EU Android deal.

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