Brave Uber whistleblower breaks her silence to warn of ‘smear campaign’

Susan Fowler Rigetti became a whistleblower Sunday when she published a blog post describing the sexist work culture and oppressive management style she experienced while at Uber. 

Since then, other women stepped forward with similar stories and the company’s investors are now demanding action. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick held an all-hands meeting Tuesday, in which he promised change throughout the company, and announced that he’d enlisted former US Attorney General Eric Holder with conducting an investigation into the matter. 

But the “smear campaign” against Fowler has begun, she said in a tweet Friday afternoon:

This tweet is the first time Fowler has tweeted since she thanked people for their support shortly after posting her original story. 

Fowler’s original tweet about her story received 22,000 retweets, and set off a furious news cycle about her claims. 

Over the last week, her name’s become synonymous not just with alleged company-wide gender discrimination at Uber, but within startup culture at-large. 

Uber itself has even named Fowler in emails to users, in response to customers who specifically referenced the latest allegations when cancelling their accounts. The number of account-deletion requests following the publication of Fowler’s blog post have been low, according to an Uber spokesperson. 

That doesn’t mean the world is completely against Uber—some employees who work there have started to come out in defense of the company over the last week. In response to “What do engineers at Uber think of Susan Fowler Rigetti’s blogpost of her year at Uber?” on Quora, Travis Addair, a senior software engineer at Uber, wrote:

“I personally suspect that Susan’s account is accurate from her perspective, but I also suspect there’s more to this story that even she was not aware of. But that’s just speculation on my part, at the end of the day I don’t know any more than anyone else.”

Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment when asked whether they have been in touch with Fowler directly. If they do, we’ll update the story here.

Protect files and apps on your Galaxy S7 with Samsung’s Secure Folder

Why it matters to you

Samsung’s Secure Folder makes encrypting sensitive content on your smartphone easier than ever, and adds critical features for locking apps and accounts behind an added layer of security.

We store our entire lives on our smartphones, and at one point or another, every user has sensitive content on their device they’d rather keep private from prying eyes. That’s surprisingly hard to do on Android or iOS without a third-party app, as neither platform gives users the ability to create encrypted storage spaces out of the box. Fortunately, Samsung is bucking that trend by launching Secure Folder support for its Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge smartphones.

Secure Folders actually debuted on last year’s Galaxy Note 7, though, regrettably, not many owners got the chance to become well-acquainted with the feature. That’s changing now that Samsung has released a downloadable version through its Galaxy Apps store. Secure Folders pretty much accomplish exactly what you’d imagine they would, allowing users to lock images, documents, and even apps behind a form of authentication, be it a PIN, password, pattern, or fingerprint.

More: Samsung Galaxy S8 rumors and news leaks

What differentiates Secure Folder from other solutions, however, is that it can actually be used to store copies of apps with their own unique data, sandboxed from the rest of the phone. For example, a user could copy Twitter to a Secure Folder, and use that copy of the app for a separate account that wouldn’t be accessible from the original app on the home screen. As Samsung notes in its Newsroom post, “any notes, photos, contacts or browsing history within the apps stored in Secure Folder will remain separate from the same apps outside Secure Folder.”

That is a useful, powerful addition that is sure to please users managing high-risk information on their phones every day, made better by the fact that Secure Folders also support Samsung’s cloud-based backup and restore functionality. These backups remain isolated from the phone’s other general backup files, and are tied to a single Samsung account.

Finally, Samsung points out that Secure Folders can be customized with different names and icons to make them less conspicuous, or be hidden from the Apps screen entirely. Secure Folder is currently only compatible with Galaxy S7 devices running Android 7.0, though Samsung says it expects to bring the app to more of its phones in the future.

SoFi confirms $500 million in new funding as it pushes beyond lending

Online finance startup SoFi got its start refinancing student loans but gradually has been adding other services to members. To expand into new regions and move closer to becoming a full-service financial services company, SoFi has confirmed that it raised an additional $500 million in equity financing led by Silver Lake.

The new funding round, which previously had been reported by Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, brings total equity financing to $1.9 billion. Other investors in the round include SoftBank and GPI Capital.

SoFi is best known as an online lender targeting so-called HENRYs (high earners, not rich yet) with student loan refinancing and other financial services. Rather than look strictly at FICO scores as a measure of credit-worthiness, SoFi also takes into account factors like income and cash flows as it evaluates potential “members.”

Starting with student loan refinancing, SoFi quickly added personal loans and mortgage lending options for its members. But each of those products is limited by the lack of frequency with which users need them, which led SoFi to begin offering a wider suite of financial services.

Nowadays SoFi members can buy life insurance and use wealth management tools the company has added, and soon they will be able to get more traditional banking services from the company. SoFi acquired banking startup Zenbanx in a deal valued at around $100 million to round out its portfolio with banking, debit, payments and money transfer services.

Over time, SoFi has caught some flak for cherry-picking customers and not being more inclusive with who can take advantage of its services. That exclusivity has also meant a somewhat limited addressable market, which can be seen in its user numbers.

While SoFi more than doubled from 100,000 members in 2015 to 225,000 at the end of 2016, that’s still a very small number relative to the size of the U.S. financial services market.

With the acquisition of Zenbanx and the addition of SoFi-branded banking services later this year, the company should be able to capture more customers in the U.S. Who knows — maybe by giving them a bank account, SoFi will be able to identify customers who might not have applied for their loans.

In addition to offering more services, SoFi is also looking beyond U.S. borders. The company says it plans to expand service offerings to Australia and Canada by the end of the year.

Featured Image: Cattallina/Shutterstock

Xiaomi Mi 6 news and rumors

Rumors of a successor to Xiaomi’s 2016 Mi 5 flagship smartphone have begun to heat up, but the company has cooled off any hype by announcing that it will skip Mobile World Congress this year. The Mi 6 was expected to launch at the show, just like the Chinese company’s Mi 5 did at MWC 2016.

Still, there’s no doubt a successor is on the way — just not as soon as many had hoped. Here’s everything we know so far about the Mi 6.

More: Facebook’s new head of virtual reality is former Xiaomi, Google man Hugo Barra

Ceramic design

We’ve gotten a few leaks of the Mi 6 so far, leaving little to the imagination — assuming those leaks are authentic. The latest leak comes from Weibo, and contrary to previous leaks, it shows a device without a home button on the front. Instead, there could be a home button embedded in the software — like other Android phones.

Previous leaks from MyDrivers suggest the Mi 6 could have a ceramic back — one of the prime features of the nearly bezel-less Mi Mix smartphone.

Other previous leaks offer us a glimpse as to what the phone could look like. If the leaked pictures are actually of the Mi 6, the front of it will resemble Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge with a curved display and a similarly styled home button. The back is fairly different from the Mi 5, and is more reminiscent of the iPhone 6S.

There are reports that there will be three models of the Mi 6 — one with curved edges and one without, as well as a second flat variant with a different processor.

Rumored specs

The Mi 6 with a curved display is expected to be the premium flagship powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor, but recent reports from Gizmochina indicate that the processor may be underclocked, meaning it just won’t be as fast as it could be. Why is this happening? Well, it’s complicated. Samsung co-developed the Snapdragon 835 processor with Qualcomm, and as such gets first pick of the fully clocked supply. Instead of waiting for supply to pick up a little, some manufacturers may instead opt to go for underclocked chips that Samsung may not want to use. This wouldn’t be uncharacteristic for Xiaomi, which launched the Mi 5 with an underclocked Snapdragon 820 in an effort to get the handset out sooner.

The flat Mi 6 is also expected to feature the same underclocked processor, but at a lower price, and the third Mi 6 variant will be flat but will house a MediaTek Helio X30 processor. The latter will be the cheapest option, if reports are accurate.

The flagship Mi 6 will likely have 6GB of RAM, while the other models may be stuck with 4GB. The flagship may cost around $363 for 6GB of RAM.

Information about the specs of the Mi 6 is sparse and often from little-known sources. There are conflicting reports that suggest a 3,000mAh battery, for example, while others say to expect a 4,000mAh capacity. If there are three models with various specs, it would certainly make sense as to why the information varies. All such information should be viewed with some skepticism until official announcements are made.

Other specs that have been suggested are support for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4.0, as well as a fingerprint sensor on the front of the device.

Release date

As mentioned, Xiaomi is skipping Mobile World Congress, which means the Mi 6 won’t be revealed until a later date. Xiaomi Today says the company has postponed the phone’s launch until April, though the information seems to mostly be based on speculation about the availability of the Snapdragon 835.

We will continue to update this post as we learn more about the Mi 6.

Updated on 02-24-2017 by Christian de Looper: Added leaked images from Weibo.

Google Cracks Key Security Code, Calls for New Standard

Google on Thursday announced that its two years of collaboration with
CWI, the Netherlands’ national research institute for mathematics and computer science, resulted in the launch of a successful attack against the SHA-1 cryptographic algorithm, a widely used standard protocol used to protect sensitive data in millions of computers.

The breakthrough research, led by Marc Stevens of CWI and Ellie Bursztein of Google, shows that the industry needs to send the SHA-1 standard into retirement, Google said, because the attack they were able to generate shows that the algorithm is no longer secure.

“Google has advocated the deprecation of SHA-1 for many years, particularly when it comes to signing TLS certificates,” Stevens, Bursztein and other team members noted in an online post. “As early as 2014, the Chrome team announced they would gradually phase out using SHA-1.”

Google urged the industry to switch to a more secure standard like SHA-256 or SHA-3.

SHA-1 is a cryptographic hash function used to underpin secure browser activity and manage code repositories, as well as for other security tasks on personal computers.

Hash functions are designed to compress large amounts of data into a message digest as a cryptographic requirement. However, attacks on the mathematical underpinnings of hash functions or increases in computational power can cause the requirement to fail over time, according to the researchers.

collision attack diagram

Collision Origin Story

Stevens in 2013 published a paper that outlined a theoretical approach to create an SHA-1 collision. The researchers went about creating a PDF prefix, which allowed them to create two documents with arbitrary but distinct visual contacts. Under this circumstance, they would hash to the same SHA-1 digest.

The researchers leveraged the company’s cloud infrastructure and technical expertise to create one of the largest computations ever completed.

Nine quintillion SHA-1 computations were completed in total, 6,500 years of CPU computation went into completing the first attack phase, and 110 years of GPU computation were needed to complete the second phase, Stevens, Bursztein, et al reported.

Despite the large calculations required, the attack was still 100,000 times faster than a brute force attack, which remains impractical.

Based on its vulnerability disclosure policy, Google committed to waiting 90 days before releasing the code that would allow anyone to create a pair of PDFs that could hash to the same SHA-1 sum. The company has also taken steps to detect the PDF collision technique in order to protect Gmail and GSuite users.

Google is also providing a free detection system to the public.

Phasing Out SHA-1

The real-world vulnerability means that anyone running an older computer system may be at risk, said Mark Nunnikhoven, vice president of cloud research at Trend Micro.

“The practical implications are that some older systems — seven years or more — that may still use the SHA-1 for digital signatures, survey verification or file comparison may be vulnerable to this attack,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “The reality is that very few systems should be exposed at this point.”

NIST, the standards board that regulates computer security, officially deprecated SHA-1 in 2011, Nunnikhoven noted, adding that modern systems have moved away from the algorithm.

The research essentially shows that the SHA-1 algorithm can be forged and must be replaced with something more secure, said Kevin Epstein, vice president of the threat operations center at Proofpoint.

“From a cybersecurity standpoint, this announcement reiterates the need for behavioral analysis as well as static analysis of code — for example, running an email attachment in a safe environment first and observing its behavior before letting a user open it, rather than solely relying on the digital signature for validity,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement provided to the E-Commerce Times by company rep Rachel Martinez.

“Today’s report is further evidence that SHA-1’s useful lifetime has ended as part of the normal lifecycle of encryption technologies,” the spokesperson added. “Microsoft has worked with the industry since 2012 to phase out the use of SHA-1. Microsoft Edge and IE 11 do not consider websites using SHA-1 certificates secure, so do not show the lock icon that’s used to indicate a secure site in the browser’s address bar.”

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times.

This smart braille watch finally hits shelves

After almost three years, the Dot smartwatch is ready to hit the market.

It’s the first assistive smartwatch to display braille messages on its screen.

The round, sleek face displays six cells of six balls each, and allows users to send back simple replies by using two side buttons.

The watch has been in development since 2014 but kept hitting delays.

The company is now ready to ship it to 100,000 backers, reportedly including Stevie Wonder.

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Apple: Random iPhone battery shutdowns are way down

No more random shutdowns, please.
No more random shutdowns, please.

Image: brittany herbert/mashable

Good news for iPhone users fed up with infuriating battery-shutdown woes: There might just be a solution to your problem. Chances are, it’s already at work in your phone.

Frustrated iPhone users have reported unexpected system shutdowns for months. The battery issues, which affect iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S and 6S Plus devices, typically strike when power levels dwindle to about 30 percent. The phones shut down without warning with no way to restart the system until it’s plugged in to a power source. 

Believe it or not, Apple is aware of the issue and hasn’t been sitting on its hands about it. It included some measures to address the problem in iOS 10.2.1 (which was released on Jan. 23), and now the company says it’s gathered enough data to conclude the shutdowns are becoming less of a problem.

In an emailed statement, Apple rep told Mashable phones running iOS 10.2.1 are much less likely to power off unexpectedly. The company says reports of iPhone 6S shutdowns have reduced by over 80 percent, while incidents involving iPhone 6 devices have reduced by more than 70 percent.

With iOS 10.2.1, the user will be able to restart the iPhone without reconnecting to power.

The rep also told us that iOS 10.2.1 is installed on more than 50 percent of active iOS devices, so the majority of iPhones affected by the bug have likely received the fix. 

If an iPhone running the latest update still shuts down unexpectedly, the user will be able to restart it without reconnecting to power — much more convenient than walking around with a bricked device until they get to a power cord. 

This isn’t the only battery shutdown issue the iPhone 6S has faced — last year, Apple actually offered replacements for a small number of faulty devices. That flaw isn’t related to the incidents being addressed by the most recent update. 

For more details about iPhone battery best practices, check out Apple’s information page on the subject. First tip: upgrade to iOS 10.2.1 immediately.  

Communication platform Layer raises $15M and acquires interactive messaging startup Cola

Layer, the messaging platform that won TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield back in 2013, is making two big announcement today: It’s raised $15 million in Series B funding, and it’s acquiring another startup, Cola.

Layer makes it easy for businesses to add messaging capabilities to their iOS, Android and web products — customers include Trunk Club, Staples and Udacity. In fact, the company recently partnered with Microsoft to provide messaging in the official app at the World Economic Forum in Davos, with capabilities for instant translation.

Cola, meanwhile, launched a text messaging app last year with interactive capabilities like calendar- and location-sharing, polling and shared to-do lists. (You can see examples in the screenshot below.) Layer CEO Ron Palmeri told me that Cola’s technology was a good fit for the Layer platform, since Cola’s “Bubbles” could help streamline a customer’s interactions with a business.

Cola Bubbles

“If you have to file an insurance claim, or start a mortgage process, these things require many, many steps and takes days or weeks,” Palmeri said — so imagine staying connected throughout all of that with messaging and Cola Bubbles that update to tell you where you are in the process.

So Layer is acquiring Cola to integrate those capabilities into its broader platform — the Cola technical team, led by CTO Jeremy Wyld, will be working at Layer to build these integrations. (The rest of Cola, including CEO David Temkin, won’t be joining.) Ultimately, Palmeri said he wants to bring Cola functionality “across web and mobile, tying into things like email and SMS channels.”

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Cola had raised $1.3 million in seed funding from investors including Brad Garlinghouse, Steve Case, Naval Ravikant and Tribeca Angels.

And while the team will no longer focus on developing the Cola app, Palmeri said there are no plans to shut the app down.

As for Layer’s new funding, it was led by Greycroft Partners, with participation from Microsoft Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and others. Palmeri said Layer will be focused building more integrations, continuing to improve its open source user interface frameworks and developing technology in areas like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The startup has now raised a total of $23 million.

The holy grail of VR headsets might look something like this

Having conquered smartphones and smartwatches, Qualcomm now wants its powerful mobile chips to power all-in-one virtual reality headsets.

The chipmaker announced its latest processor, the Snapdragon 835, will play a key role in accelerating the adoption of headsets that aren’t dependent on a smartphone or a tether to a PC.

To help developers get a jump on creating mobile VR experiences, Qualcomm’s introducing a Snapdragon VR development kit (VRDK) that includes an all-in-one VR headset (often called the holy grail of VR) with a bunch of sensors that doesn’t require a smartphone to be slotted in. The headset is a reference design, meaning Qualcomm has no plans to market it as a consumer product.

“With this new VRDK, we’re providing virtual reality application developers with advanced tools and technologies to accelerate a new generation of VR games, 360-degree VR videos and a variety of interactive education, enterprise, healthcare and entertainment applications,” Qualcomm executive vice president Cristiano Amon said in a press release.

VR enthusiasts will notice the headset’s specs are basically on par with a high-end Android phone. Aside from the embedded 835 processor, the headset has a 2,560 x 1,440 AMOLED display (split between two eyes), two fisheye cameras on the outside for motion tracking, two monochromatic VGA cameras for eye tracking on the inside and an integrated trackpad (just like on the Samsung Gear VR).

Other specs include 64GB of internal storage, 4GB of RAM, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and USB-C for charging.

All of these upgrades from the previous Snapdragon 820-based Qualcomm reference headset will help with improving mobile VR experiences by reducing latency, correcting visual distortions, and providing powerful motion-tracking for more immersive experiences.

And speaking of motion-tracking, Qualcomm’s partnering up with Leap Motion to add hand-tracking to mobile VR experiences.

[embedded content]

“Untethered, mobile VR headsets with intuitive, hand-based interaction and position tracking bring a level of quality, immersion, and accessibility to VR unlike anything that’s been seen before,” says Leap Motion CTO David Holz. 

“This relationship with a mobile VR processing leader like Qualcomm Technologies is an important step towards making virtual reality truly ubiquitous, and we believe it has the potential to fundamentally transform the makeup of the human experience.”

Even though the headset, which will be available in Q2 of this year, is only a reference design for third-party companies to model their own VR headsets after, it’s not hard to see how exciting mobile VR is about to get.

The Tesla Model 3 gets real in July

Tesla’s 2016 earning report and letter to shareholders presented some exciting news for some of its most eager customers. 

The letter revealed that production for Model 3 — the company’s “affordable” electric car — is on track to start in July 2017, with volume ramping up by September. The company predicts production will scale to “exceed 5,000 vehicles at some point in the fourth quarter.” By the end of 2018, Tesla expects to be producing 10,000 cars per week. 

In May 2016, Musk announced that production for the Model 3 was targeted to start in 1 July 2017, but said at the time it was an “impossible” date because he suspected suppliers will be late to deliver. His rationale for setting the date was that they needed to set the July deadline to keep suppliers accountable, so Tesla can start actual production a few months later. 

Anything can happen between now and July, but for now, it appears Tesla has exceeded its own expectations. It’s not the first time Tesla has set a lofty goal and achieved it: A recent acceleration test by Motor Trend set a new record for the Tesla Model S P100D, making it the first production car to reach 60mph in less than 2.3 seconds. Musk had previously said in a tweet that he thought that reaching 2.34 would be “achievable.”

Tesla plans to ramp up its operations ahead of the Model 3 launch in anticipation of meeting the needs of a “larger family of Tesla owners.” They started building prototypes in early February, and reported initial crash test results have so far been positive.