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Apple Reportedly Dropped Plans for End-to-End Encrypted iCloud Backups After FBI Objected

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More than two years ago, Apple informed the FBI that it planned to roll out end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups, according to Reuters. Apple ultimately dropped the plan at some point after the FBI objected, although the report notes that it is unclear if the federal agency was a factor in the decision.

A former Apple employee told Reuters that the company did not want to risk scrutiny from public officials for potentially protecting criminals, being sued for making previously accessible data out of reach of government agencies, or the move encouraging new legislation against encryption.

"They decided they weren't going to poke the bear anymore," the person said, after Apple's legal battle with the FBI in 2016 over unlocking an iPhone used by a shooter in the San Bernardino, California attack. In that case, the FBI ultimately found an alternative method of unlocking the iPhone.

Apple faces a similar standoff with the FBI over refusing to unlock two passcode-protected iPhones that investigators believe were owned by Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, the suspect of a mass shooting at a Naval Air Station in Florida last month. Apple said it has provided the FBI with all data in its possession.

Apple has taken a hard line on refusing to create a backdoor into iOS that would allow the FBI to unlock password-protected iPhones to assist in their investigations, but it does provide data backed up to iCloud to authorities when lawfully requested, as outlined in its semiannual Transparency Reports.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

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Go read this NYT expose on a creepy new facial recognition database used by US police

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Facial Recognition Illustration by James Bareham / The Verge

Hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the US have started using a new facial recognition system from Clearview AI, a new investigation by The New York Times has revealed. The database is made up of billions of images scraped from millions of sites including Facebook, YouTube, and Venmo. The Times says that Clearview AI’s work could “end privacy as we know it,” and the piece is well worth a read in its entirety.

The use of facial recognition systems by police is already a growing concern, but the scale of Clearview AI’s database, not to mention the methods it used to assemble it, is particularly troubling. The Clearview system is built upon a database of over three billion images scraped from the internet, a process which may have violated websites’ terms of service. Law enforcement agencies can upload photos of any persons of interest from their cases, and the system returns matching pictures from the internet, along with links to where these images are hosted, such as social media profiles.

The NYT says the system has already helped police solve crimes including shoplifting, identify theft, credit card fraud, murder, and child sexual exploitation. In one instance, Indiana State Police were able to solve a case within 20 minutes by using the app.

The use of facial recognition algorithms by police carry risks. False positives can incriminate the wrong people, and privacy advocates fear their use could help to create a police surveillance state. Police departments have reportedly used doctored images that could lead to wrongful arrests, and a federal study has uncovered “empirical evidence” of bias in facial recognition systems.

Using the system involves uploading photos to Clearview AI’s servers, and it’s unclear how secure these are. Although Clearview AI says its customer-support employees will not look at the photos that are uploaded, it appeared to be aware that Kashmir Hill (the Times journalist investigating the piece) was having police search for her face as part of her reporting:

While the company was dodging me, it was also monitoring me. At my request, a number of police officers had run my photo through the Clearview app. They soon received phone calls from company representatives asking if they were talking to the media — a sign that Clearview has the ability and, in this case, the appetite to monitor whom law enforcement is searching for.

The Times reports that the system appears to have gone viral with police departments, with over 600 already signed up. Although there’s been no independent verification of its accuracy, Hill says the system was able to identify photos of her even when she covered the lower half of her face, and that it managed to find photographs of her that she’d never seen before.

One expert quoted by The Times said that the amount of money involved with these systems means that they need to be banned before the abuse of them becomes more widespread. “We’ve relied on industry efforts to self-police and not embrace such a risky technology, but now those dams are breaking because there is so much money on the table,” said a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University, Woodrow Hartzog, “I don’t see a future where we harness the benefits of face recognition technology without the crippling abuse of the surveillance that comes with it. The only way to stop it is to ban it.”

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Frontier, an ISP in 29 states, plans to file for bankruptcy

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A Frontier Communications service van parked in a snowy area.

Enlarge / A Frontier Communications service van. (credit: Mike Mozart)

Frontier Communications is planning to file for bankruptcy within two months, Bloomberg reported last week.

The telco "is asking creditors to help craft a turnaround deal that includes filing for bankruptcy by the middle of March, according to people with knowledge of the matter," Bloomberg wrote.

Frontier CEO Bernie Han and other company executives "met with creditors and advisers Thursday and told them the company wants to negotiate a pre-packaged agreement before $356 million of debt payments come due March 15," the report said. The move would likely involve Chapter 11 bankruptcy to let Frontier "keep operating without interruption of telephone and broadband service to its customers."

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Cooler Master is tired of telling parents their kids aren’t on drugs

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Early this morning, Cooler Master tweeted a picture of its new spade-tipped thermal compound applicators and captioned it "we didn't change the shape of the syringe to make applying thermal paste a lot easier, but because we're getting tired of having to explain to parents that their kid isn't using drugs."

It took the Ars staff a few minutes of grappling with Poe's Law to figure out if they were serious or not. On the one hand, how many parents would really mistake thermal compound for a medical syringe? On the other hand... the world's a big place, and as recently as 2015, I needed to tell parents en masse that the most prevalent server operating system on the planet isn't malware, so who knows? But Cooler Master is probably just joining the likes of Wendy's, Denny's, and Old Spice on Snarky Brand Twitter.

What we're sure of is that the spade-tipped applicator looks a lot more pleasant to use than the general purpose closed-needle-tip syringe senior techs and enthusiasts have been grappling with for decades. If you're not accustomed to it, thermal compound is thick, goopy, and an absolute nightmare to clean off of any credit card you unwisely use to try to spread a thin film of it evenly across your new CPU, as guides have advised for as long as thermal compound has existed. (Some techs keep a "fake" credit card around for just this purpose, which at least lets them get some use out of spam credit card offers.)

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Microsoft wants to capture all of the carbon dioxide it’s ever emitted

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Microsoft plans to remove all of the carbon dioxide it has ever released into the atmosphere by 2050, it announced today. The company committed to becoming carbon negative by 2030, meaning that it plans to draw down more planet-heating carbon dioxide than it emits.

The technology needed to make that goal a reality is still expensive and not widely commercially available, so the company also plans to spend $1 billion over the next four years to fund innovation in reducing, capturing, and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The company has been carbon neutral since 2012, canceling out its emissions by purchasing renewable energy and carbon offsets. That’s also when it started charging an internal fee on its business units for the greenhouse gases they generate as a way to get its divisions to slash their emissions. Those measures are no longer ambitious enough for the company, according to Microsoft president Brad Smith. It now plans to source all of its electricity use from renewables by 2025. And it will start charging its businesses for the planet-heating gases they generate along the entire supply chain to help fund its new climate initiatives.

“It reminds me of the Microsoft of old. They used to do big, audacious stuff like this all the time and I’m glad to see that ethos return on a planetary basis. It’s also long overdue,” Julio Friedmann, a senior research scholar at Columbia University who previously led the Department of Energy’s R&D on carbon capture and storage, tells The Verge.

The most audacious commitment from Microsoft is its push to take carbon out of the atmosphere. The company is putting its faith in nascent technology, and it’s injecting a significant investment into a still controversial climate solution. Proponents of carbon capture, like Friedmann, say that the technology is mature enough to accomplish Microsoft’s aims. It’s just way too expensive right now. Microsoft’s backing — and its $1 billion infusion of cash — could ultimately make the tech cheaper and more appealing to other companies looking for new ways to go green.

Microsoft expects to put out 16 million metric tons of carbon this year, which is roughly as much as 15 coal-fired power plants. Capturing carbon dioxide from the air can still cost up to $600 per ton. At that rate, it could cost Microsoft $9.6 billion just to remove this year’s emissions, let alone everything it’s released since the company’s founding in 1975.

But as more people adopt negative emissions technology, prices are expected to drop — just as the cost of solar energy fell from roughly $30 per watt in 1980 to less than $1 per watt in 2019.

“The only way we can go forward is actually to take steps that will remove carbon from the environment,” Smith said at an event for media this week. He acknowledged, however, that “the technology that we will need to solve this problem does not exist today, at least not in the way that would make it affordable and effective the way the world would require.”

Critics of carbon capture, like presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders worry that relying on drawing down carbon after it’s been released takes the pressure off polluters to actually burn less fossil fuel. Carbon capture is popular within the fossil fuel industry; 10 oil and gas companies together decided to funnel $1 billion into developing the technologies in 2016.

For its part, Microsoft says that it has committed to slashing emissions by more than half by 2030. Switching over to renewable electricity sources in 2025 will get it part of the way to that goal, but it will have to make adjustments in other areas as well. The company is holding itself responsible for not only the greenhouse gas emissions it directly emits, but also for emissions from suppliers it contracts with and the pollution from consumers who use its products. When it comes to Microsoft’s Xbox, for example, the company is factoring in the pollution from the materials it took to make the gaming console, the electricity Microsoft uses for its operations, emissions from shipping, and ultimately the energy someone uses when they plug it in and play.

To address climate change with negative emissions technologies, Microsoft would also need to make sure that there’s a safe and essentially permanent way to store the carbon it captures so that it doesn’t just get released again. “The devil is always in the details with this. And I think it’s going to be really important that Microsoft is transparent about what exactly they mean by carbon negative and how they plan to get there,” Noah Deich, executive director at the NGO Carbon180, formerly the Center for Carbon Removal, tells The Verge.

Microsoft is still doing business with fossil fuel companies. In September, it announced a major deal with oil industry giants Chevron and Schlumberger to “accelerate development of cloud-native solutions and deliver actionable data insights for the industry” using Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform Azure. In its announcement today, Microsoft said it’s launching a new “sustainability calculator” to help Azure customers track and report their carbon footprint.

Employees at Microsoft have called for the company to take bigger steps to address the climate crisis. In a September letter, they demanded zero contracts with fossil fuel companies, zero funding for politicians pushing climate denial, and zero emissions by 2030.

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Bose is closing all of its retail stores in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia

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Bose Store at Woodbury Commons Premium Outlets Mall Photo by Gary Hershorn/Corbis via Getty Images

Bose plans to close its entire retail store footprint in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia. The company announced the decision earlier today and pointed to the fact that its headphones, speakers, and other products “are increasingly purchased through e-commerce” as the reasoning. Hundreds of employees will be laid off as a result.

Bose opened its first physical retail store in 1993 and currently has locations in many shopping centers and the remaining malls scattered across the US. The stores are used to showcase the company’s product lineup, which has grown beyond Bose’s signature noise-canceling headphones in recent years to include smart speakers and sunglasses that double as earbuds. There are often similar demo areas at retailers like Best Buy, though Bose has plenty of competition to worry about in that environment.

The Framingham, Massachusetts-based company is privately held and is not revealing exactly how many workers are being impacted by its decision to pull out of physical retail.

“Originally, our retail stores gave people a way to experience, test, and talk to us about multi-component, CD and DVD-based home entertainment systems,” said Colette Burke, Bose’s vice president of global sales. “At the time, it was a radical idea, but we focused on what our customers needed, and where they needed it — and we’re doing the same thing now.”

Bose is shuttering its retail presence in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia “over the next few months.” That adds up to a total of 119 stores, according to a spokesperson. “In other parts of the world, Bose stores will remain open, including approximately 130 stores located in Greater China and the United Arab Emirates; and additional stores in India, Southeast Asia, and South Korea,” the company told The Verge by email.

Bose says it’s offering outplacement assistance and severance to employees that are being laid off. The company’s full statement is below:

Given the dramatic shift to online shopping in specific markets, Bose plans to close its remaining 119 retail stores across North America, Europe, Japan and Australia over the next several months. In other parts of the world, Bose stores will remain open, including approximately 130 stores located in Greater China and the United Arab Emirates; and additional stores in India, Southeast Asia, and South Korea.

In 1993, Bose opened its first store in the United States to provide personal, private demonstrations for Wave music systems and Lifestyle home theater systems. As smartphones changed the industry, the company’s focus turned to mobile, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi solutions. Today, Bose noise-cancelling headphones, truly wireless sport earbuds, portable speakers, and smart speakers are increasingly purchased through e-commerce, including; and Bose is a larger multi-national company, with a localized mix of channels tailored for a country or region.

“Originally, our retail stores gave people a way to experience, test, and talk to us about multi-component, CD and DVD-based home entertainment systems,” said Colette Burke, vice president of Global Sales, Bose Corporation. “At the time, it was a radical idea, but we focused on what our customers needed, and where they needed it – and we’re doing the same thing now. It’s still difficult, because the decision impacts some of our amazing store teams who make us proud every day. They take care of every person who walks through our doors – whether that’s helping with a problem, giving expert advice, or just letting someone take a break and listen to great music. Over the years, they’ve set the standard for customer service. And everyone at Bose is grateful.”

Bose will be offering outplacement assistance and severance to affected employees. Additional details, including the number of employees affected, will remain private.

Bose products are carried at Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Apple stores, other third-party retailers, and on the company’s own website.

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