All posts in “Business”

Explosive claims of illegal spying and hacking rock the Uber vs. Waymo trial

The newest twist in the Uber vs. Waymo trial over allegedly stolen self-driving technology sounds like something out of a Tom Clancy novel. A letter from a former Uber employee has been made public for the first time, claiming that some of the practices that Uber engaged in included covert hacking, illegal surveillance, and bribery of foreign officials.

Known as the “Jacobs letter,” it was written by former Uber security team member Richard Jacobs and sent to Uber executives last May. The trial was delayed in November when this new document came to light, after it was forwarded to Judge William Alsup by a US attorney also investigating Uber for a different matter. The judge blasted Uber’s lawyers in court, and questioned whether they had something to hide.

Although several of these allegations have been previously raised in the trial, the full document was released last week. Many details are redacted, but you can read the full 37-page document here.

“While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter — and, importantly, any related to Waymo — our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology,” said an Uber spokesman in a statement, according to Buzzfeed.

The letter claims that Uber “fraudulently impersonates riders and drivers on competitor platforms, hacks into competitor networks, and conducts unlawful wiretapping.” They used these tactics to evaluate vulnerabilities in their competitors’ security, using anonymous servers to “make millions of data calls against competitor and government servers without causing a signature that would alert competitors to the theft.”

The letter goes on to implicate former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, and details some of the procedures used to illegally wiretap meeting of their competitors’ executives. “In at least one instance, the LAT operatives deployed against these targets were able to record and observe private conversations among the executives including their real time reactions to a press story that Uber would receive $3.4 billion dollars in funding from the Saudi government. Importantly, these collection tactics were tasked directly by Sullivan on behalf of Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick. Upon information and belief, these two Uber executives, along with other members of Uber’s executive team, received live intelligence updates (including photographs and video) from Gicinto while they were present in the ‘War Room.’”

For its part, Uber says that Jacobs was attempting to extort money from the company with his letter, according to CNET. He received at least $4.5 million from Uber in a settlement reached in August. “From where I sat, my team acted ethically, with integrity and in the best interests of our drivers and riders,” former chief security officer Joe Sullivan told CNET.

If the court finds that Uber stole the files, as alleged in the lawsuit, it may be forced to pay $2 billion to Waymo and halt its autonomous-vehicle program. Stay tuned.

Editors’ Recommendations

Five companies, other than Shazam, that Apple should acquire

It’s no secret Apple purchases small companies with promising technology. With nearly 100 acquisitions thus far, Apple uses these companies to create better user experiences for both iOS and Mac. With Apple’s recent purchase of Shazam, there’s lot of speculation about the next company in Apple’s sights. Here are the top five companies we believe could drastically improve user experience on Apple devices.

Transit

apple should acquire these five companies transit app screens

Apple Maps has been the butt of many jokes since its release. When it first replaced Google Maps way back in 2012, it wasn’t uncommon to see Apple Maps recommending a quick detour through a lake or off the side of a cliff to get to your destination. Even though the app has improved dramatically since iOS 6, it’s still no match for Google Maps.

So what could Apple do to give Apple Maps more value? Acquiring Transit would be a great start. Transit provides real-time updates for public transit systems across the country. While you may be saying “Apple Maps does the same thing” (depending on where you live), the truth is that Transit does it a lot better.

Let’s use the MTA, New York City’s public transit system, as an example. Since it’s one of the only transit systems in the world that runs 24 hours a day, maintenance is often performed on nights and weekends. Each week, the MTA publishes a report called The Weekender to alert users of station closures and detours. Even though your train may not be running, Apple still recommends an out of service train and simply adds an alert that the train is not running. Transit, on the other hand, uses crowd sourcing (and a guy named Leo) to update its app to reflect the closures and offer detours.

While Apple Maps looks nice, that’s where the appeal ends. We would love to see Apple integrate data from Transit into future releases of iOS and OS X to create a more robust mapping app that competes with Google Maps.

Dish

apple dish network

At first glance, Dish seems like an odd target for Apple. Known primarily for providing satellite television for millions of Americans, Dish would be a huge acquisition for the world’s largest tech company. Valued at over $30 billion dollars, it would also be the largest acquisition ever for Apple. However, Dish would give Apple an advantage on two fronts.

It’s no secret that Apple has attempted to launch live television service for the last several years.  In 2015, The Wall Street Journal announced that Apple would launch a live TV service, offering a “slimmed down bundle of TV networks.” Licensing issues appear to have all but stopped the process.

Using Sling TV, Dish Network’s live streaming TV service, to catapult its own Apple branded product would not only allow the company to quickly get the service up and running, but would position it as one of the top players in the market. With a current subscriber base of more than 13 million, Dish would allow Apple to start its service with a consistent revenue stream that would allow it to further develop its lineup for multiple devices and platforms. Users would be able to easily update their channels in the App Store using Face ID or Touch ID and be able to transfer their services easily using Apple TV.

While Dish would be an attractive acquisition target for its live TV service alone, it has another trick up its sleeve. Over the past decade, Dish has aggressively purchased wireless spectrum from the FCC. A significant portion of this spectrum could be used to create an IoT network, something Dish is exploring. Apple could leverage this spectrum to make it a leader in connected home technology, offering a secure, private network that works with HomePod and other devices.

Pinterest

apple companies pinterest

Hear us out on this one. Pinterest would be an excellent acquisition target for Apple, not just for its social media platform, but for its fledgling AI technology.

It’s long been rumored that Apple is interested in creating a social media network. Earlier this year, Apple Insider reported that Apple may be building an ad-free premium social network. Acquiring Pinterest’s platform of more than 150 million, largely active millennial users, would allow the company to kick its plans into high gear at a relatively low entry cost (last year Motley Fool estimated Pinterest was worth approximately $11 billion dollars).

Apple already uses artificial intelligence and machine learning throughout iOS, but Google made a significant leap in computer vision and object recognition this year when it introduced Google Lens. Google Lens combines the power of AI with your smartphone camera to identify objects and provide contextual recommendations and actions based upon the object.

Right now, Apple has no comparable feature. Pinterest Lens could allow Apple to quickly create a similar experience for iPhone users, while pairing it with a social media platform. Pinterest Lens works much like Google Lens but provides more personalized recommendations based on your own pins and likes. Apple could easily bake this technology into future versions of iOS and OS X, not only creating a Google Lens-like feature, but also integrating it into Photos and other apps to allow easy cataloging and sharing on its social media platform.

Yelp

apple yelp

Yelp seems like a somewhat obvious acquisition target for Apple. Its reviews are featured in Apple Maps and it’s already integrated into the iMessage app drawer. Developing and refining these features into future version of iOS and OS X, however, could allow users to use this information in a variety of different ways across multiple apps.

Yelp can be a little annoying. On mobile, you need to download the app and create a login to get the most out of it. For the casual user, it seems like a lot of trouble. If Apple purchased Yelp, the features could be baked into iOS and OS X and allow users to link reviews to their iCloud accounts. The service could also be further built into iMessage and Calendar to to provide location-based suggestions when texting or scheduling appointments. Users could also pin reviewed locations and corresponding photos to the Apple Maps app.

Dark Sky

apple should acquire these five companies dark sky screenshots

The Weather app is one that doesn’t get a lot of attention. The design hasn’t changed much over the years, and it gathers information from The Weather Channel. While it gets the job done, it’s pretty basic and can sometimes be not very accurate.

Dark Sky is one of the most popular weather apps in the App Store. While no one at Dark Sky is a meteorologist, they manage to provide extremely accurate, up-to-the-minute forecasts. How do they do it? Well, the company uses machine learning and neural nets to discern good data from NOAA and other weather services from noise.

Both elegant and informative, Dark Sky seems like the perfect target for Apple. The app could easily be rebranded for iOS 12. It could also provide added value to other Mac and iOS services. For example, Apple Maps could automatically recommend routes with less walking and fewer transfers for commuters during inclement weather.

Editors’ Recommendations

Google kills augmented reality project Tango to focus on ARCore

Google has chosen to end support for its Tango augmented reality (AR) project Tango, deciding to focus on the development of ARCore instead. Support for Tango will come to an end on March 31, 2018.

The move comes mere months after Google increased support for ARCore, its AR development platform that’s allowed for cool AR stickers on the Pixel 2 camera, among other fun apps for Android phones. It’s still in its infancy, but Google clearly sees ARCore as a more viable platform than Tango.

Speculation is rife that Google’s hand was forced by the emergence of Apple’s ARKit, which brought augmented reality to iOS11 apps. Despite launching way back in 2014, Tango never really got off the ground, thanks to restrictions that forced developers into very high-end equipment. Perhaps because of those restraints, Tango AR has only ever really been seen on two devices: the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro and the more recent Asus ZenFone AR.

What made Project Tango so special? Much like Microsoft’s HoloLens, Tango used a smartphone’s camera to map out a 3D approximation of an area to create a game world based around your real confines. Conventional AR, such as that seen in Pokemon Go, simply transposes images over the phone camera.

[embedded content]

Tango was always an ambitious project, with big plans for the medical world or as an interactive tour guide in museums. Recently, HoloLens and Tango were used to create a life-like tank experience for guests of the World of Tanks TankFest 2017 event.

Unfortunately for those few who did adopt Tango, it seems the extreme high-end nature of the platform was its stumbling block. Hopefully Google will look to import much of what made Tango great into ARCore.

“Our goal with Tango was really to prove out the core technology and show the world that it’s possible,” Google AR/VR boss Clay Bavor told TechCrunch. “Obviously others have started to invest in smartphone AR; our goal with Tango has always been to drive that capability into as many devices as possible.”

While it’s an unfortunate move for anyone who bought the Asus ZenFone AR, hopefully Tango’s retirement will mean extra movement on ARCore development — and an increase in AR content as a whole. But support ending doesn’t mean you need to stop having fun with your Tango-enabled device, should you have one. Have fun with some of the our favorite Tango AR apps.

Editors’ Recommendations

Chase will soon offer cashback rewards for cardholders using mobile pay

Back in 2015, JPMorgan Chase offered the world its digital wallet, Chase Pay — allowing users to pay using their phone whether they’re shopping online, in stores, or dining at restaurants. On Friday, December 15, Chase Freedom announced it will offer contactless payment with quarterly cash back rewards for the first time, starting January 1.

If you’re a Chase cardholder, you’ll be able to earn up to five percent cash back by using your Freedom card. This also applies to those who use the card with any of the four mobile wallets — Chase Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, or Apple Pay.

For now, the rewards only apply toward purchases made at gas stations or when paying for your internet, cable TV, and phone service. Those who use popular services such as Spotify, Netflix, and Hulu will receive cash back for those, too. If you opt-in for mobile pay, you can earn the five percent cash back on up to $1,500 of combined purchases made within those categories.

With Chase Pay, shoppers pay in stores using a QR code within the Chase Pay app. The code is presented to the cashier at checkout, rather than tapping and paying using NFC technology with Android Pay or Apple Pay.

Chase Pay has been around for the past two years, and retailers have now begun heading down a similar path as well. Last week, Target launched Wallet — its own mobile payment system in its official app.

Target’s Wallet also focuses on supplying customers with rewards. Customers can check out in-store using their smartphone while also applying Cartwheel digital coupons or discounts after scanning their barcode. Since you’re required to use your Target REDcard, you’ll also receive five percent back.

Other retailers include Walmart’s Walmart Pay, which launched the same year as Chase Pay. Similarly, the mobile payment method also requires scanning a QR code that appears on the debit card reader at checkout.

All these mobile payment systems are also part of CurrentC, which is a group of retailers with their own mobile payment solution. While this doesn’t mean that these companies have opted out of Apple Pay or Android Pay, it does encourage customers to use the company’s respected app instead.

Chase Freedom’s latest move into the tech space is more inclusive for those who have become accustomed to using a mobile wallet. Cardholders will be able to stack up rewards on everyday purchases without having to fumble for their credit cards at checkout.

Editors’ Recommendations

U.S. states gear up to take on the FCC’s net neutrality repeal

After months of speculation and protests, the FCC has officially passed the Restoring Internet Freedom declaratory ruling on December 14, repealing the 2015 net neutrality regulations. The reaction was immediate, with industry bigwigs and influencers alike taking to the internet to express their views. Nothing may have changed yet, but regardless of which side you took in the battle, it’s likely the repeal is going to force big change in the U.S.-based section of the internet, for good or for ill.

But it’s not over yet. Moments after the motion was passed by the FCC, a handful of individual states have risen to challenge the decision, led by noteworthy supporters of the net neutrality bill. These challenge range from legal challenges by state attorneys general, to lawmakers in California and Washington pledging to propose net neutrality-style laws for their own states.

The legal challenge from New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman comes after his own investigation into allegedly faked comments left by a bot during the FCC’s public feedback process. This bot posted thousands of identical messages, using the names of thousands of unaware Americans — an act Schneiderman claims would have given the FCC a false impression of the popularity of the repeal. His open letter to the FCC was joined by attorneys general from 18 states, and it’s fairly safe to assume at least a few of those states will sign on to Schneiderman’s lawsuit against the FCC.

Among those joining Schneiderman in challenging the legality of the repeal is Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who released an official news release stating his intention to challenge the ruling. Claiming the repeal violates the Administrative Procedure Act, Ferguson is following the line set by Washington Governer Jay Inslee, who announced before the vote Washington would be looking to introduce its own regulations to protect consumers in its state.

Californian Democratic State Senator Scott Weiner is also looking to introduce new regulations following the vote. Shortly after the vote, Weiner wrote on Medium that he would introduce legislation to mimic net neutrality in his state. Scott echoed the fears of many opponents of the repeal, stating “providers are now free to manipulate web traffic on their networks, which means they can speed or slow traffic to certain sites and even block access” — fears that were exacerbated in November when Comcast retracted part of its open internet pledge, and in July when Verizon was accused of throttling video services as a “test”.

The FCC’s vote clearly wasn’t the end for the fight for the internet, and the battle for net neutrality is only just beginning. If you want to know more about net neutrality, we’ve written a guide on what net neutrality is and why you should care about it.

Editors’ Recommendations