Tech News courtesy of Ars Technica
- Google’s self-driving cars hit twice in June, but new 25 mph pods unscathed
- Appeals court: Amazon can’t dodge trademark suit over watch search results
- Massive leak reveals Hacking Team’s most private moments in messy detail
- Google-owned Waze launches “RideWith” carpooling app on Android
- Xbox Music is now Groove, as Microsoft recycles and rebrands
- Nintendo’s alleged nationalism and “awful” working conditions killed Wii game
- After 20-month delay, a furious Newegg still can’t appeal $2.3M patent loss
- Terminator-vision and the complex questions behind “augmented reality”
- “We screwed up,” says reddit CEO in formal apology
- Senate advances secret plan forcing Internet services to report terror activity
According to a report released by Google (PDF) this month, the company's self-driving cars were involved in two human-error accidents in the month of June. In addition, Google's funny little prototype self-driving cars hit the streets of Mountain View for the first time. The company says that so far, the two prototypes logging hours on public streets have not been involved in any accidents.
Google received some pressure from an advocacy group called Consumer Watchdog as well as the Associated Press in May, notably after the AP reported that there had been at least three collisions involving Google's self-driving cars in the previous six months. More detail could not be obtained because of the DMV's privacy rules surrounding accident reports, but Google vowed it would release a monthly report detailing any accidents involving the company's self driving cars from then on.
The most recent report says that Google self-driving cars have only been involved in 14 accidents since they began roaming the streets in 2009. Ars covered the 13th accident earlier this month, when a Lexus outfitted with Google's autonomous vehicle sensors was rear-ended by another, human-operated car. Both cars were going less than 1 mph.
On Monday, a divided panel of appeals judges ruled that Amazon will have to face a trademark lawsuit because of online search results it published, which point to the competitors of a high-end watchmaker.
The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit published its opinion (PDF) in Multi Time Machine v. Amazon.com today, reversing a lower court decision that held in favor of Amazon. In the original case, Multi Time Machine (MTM) sued Amazon saying its search results were confusing. The case now returns to the district court in Los Angeles for further proceedings.
Multi Time Machine may end up being an important outlier in technology law, since it approves a trademark owner bringing suit over search results. Many companies have filed lawsuits challenging the practice of "keyword advertising" by suing competitors or search engines themselves. However, the practice essentially died out because trademark owners couldn't win the lawsuits. Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman, who has tracked keyword advertising lawsuits for years, wrote last month that Google and Yahoo had finally prevailed in what he believes was the last remaining keyword advertising lawsuit.
Privacy and human rights advocates are having a field day picking through a massive leak purporting to show spyware developer Hacking Team's most candid moments, including documents that appear to contradict the company's carefully scripted PR campaign.
"Imagine this: a leak on WikiLeaks showing YOU explaining the evilest technology on earth! :-)," Hacking Team CEO David Vincenzetti wrote in a June 8 e-mail to company employees including Walter Furlan, whose LinkedIn profile lists him as the international sales engineer of the spyware developer. "You would be demonized by our dearest friends the activists, and normal people would point their fingers at you."
Other documents suggested the US FBI was among the customers paying for software that allowed targets to be surreptitiously surveilled as they used computers or smartphones. According to one spreadsheet first reported by Wired, the FBI paid Hacking Team more than $773,226.64 since 2011 for services related to the Hacking Team product known as "Remote Control Service," which is also marketed under the name "Galileo." One spreadsheet column listed simply as "Exploit" is marked "yes" for a sale in 2012, an indication Hacking Group may have bundled some sort of attack code that remotely hijacked targets' computers or phones. Previously, the FBI has been known to have wielded a Firefox exploit to decloak child pornography suspects using Tor.
Waze, the traffic-mapping app that Google acquired in 2013 for upwards of $1 billion, launched its first spin-off app on Monday. The new app, RideWith, sees Waze and Google entering the carpooling business.
The app is now live in the Google Play store for Android devices, but it currently only works in Waze's home country of Israel (and you'll need to turn Google Translate on if you visit the official site and don't read Hebrew). An announcement at Waze's official blog described the app as a "carpool pilot," and it clarified that hopeful passengers will need to download and load the new app while drivers could opt into the program directly through the Waze app. With the RideWith app, riders can enter their commute info, then wait for an alert when a route-friendly driver has been found. Users can suss out drivers by way of profiles, prior riders' reviews, and even through a chat option.
The announcement explained that the app creates a price quote, based on distance and wear-and-tear values, when someone seeks a ride (which they can edit with their own "maximum" value). Potential drivers can then decide whether or not they want to accept that payment and take the passenger in question. The app handles payment with an apparent "nominal Waze commission" added to the price. The announcement didn't clarify an amount, and a Google spokesperson declined to answer our question about the exact figure.
For a time, Microsoft's Music app on Windows 8 and Windows Phone was called Xbox Music. Then it became just Music, with little bits of Xbox Music branding still poking through. Today, Microsoft has given the service yet another new name: Groove.
Or perhaps it's Groove Music. The blog post announcing the change says "Groove" and we're told over Twitter that it's "Groove," but the screenshot in the blog post and the official website all currently say "Groove Music." Microsoft has also registered the domain groovemusic.com and has obtained access to the Twitter account @GrooveMusic.
For slightly more confusion, the subscription service giving access to the 40 million track library is now a Groove Music Pass, priced at $9.99 a month or $99 a year. UK and European pricing hasn't yet been announced, but it will presumably remain at £8.99/€9.99 per month. Xbox Music Passes will continue to work regardless of the renaming.
A report by the folks over at Unseen64 has uncovered a string of failures at Nintendo Software Technology—a US-based studio responsible for games like Metroid Prime Hunters and Mario vs. Donkey Kong—with ex-developers claiming that cultural differences with the Japanese management team lead to the failure of the Wii-exclusive game Project H.A.M.M.E.R.
Project H.A.M.M.E.R. was originally pitched as a "core" game for the Wii, and featured a cybernetic protagonist with a giant hammer that could be swung into enemies using the motion controls of a Wii controller. According to the report, development on the game began in secret in 2003 with a team of around 12 people. By the time it was unveiled at E3 2006, the game was supposedly already "75 percent complete."
However, following E3 2006, the game disappeared, with Nintendo saying that it had "shifted its focus," rather than confirming an outright cancellation. Ex-members of the NST studio told Unseen64 that high-level Nintendo executives were not happy with the quality of the game, a sentiment matched by the studio itself. The two parties differed on how to fix the game: Nintendo of Japan wanted to overhaul the environments, and NST wanted to overhaul the gameplay.
Online retailer Newegg has developed a reputation for taking on so-called "patent trolls," even when that means going through lengthy litigation and unpredictable jury trials.
The company's last patent trial concluded in November 2013, when Newegg faced off against a patent troll called TQP Development. TQP used US Patent No. 5,412,730 to make a vast claim to basic Internet encryption technologies, saying that anyone using the common combination of SSL and the RC5 encryption algorithm was infringing. By the time of the trial with Newegg, TQP had sued more than 120 companies and earned $45 million in settlement payments.
At trial, a jury ordered Newegg to pay $2.3 million to TQP. But the verdict against Newegg didn't end the case—and not because it's stuck in a grinding appeals process. In fact, the case never even advanced to an appeal at all. US District Judge Rodney Gilstrap, who oversaw the trial, has simply never entered a final judgment. He has also given no indication of when he might issue such a judgment, which Newegg needs in order to file an appeal.
For folks in my generation—those born in the late 70s or early 80s—the definition of "virtual reality" is informed by decades of popular entertainment and includes at least a few strong Lawnmower Man images. Virtual reality, as it’s been sold to us by the combined forces of Hollywood and consumer electronics companies, is the experience one gets when one straps on a head-mounted display and slips into a computer-created world. And even though most of the world’s images of VR come from the hilariously terrible first wave of VR popularity in the 1990s, mainstream companies like Oculus are close to actually making VR happen in a way that isn’t inconvenient, overly expensive, or dumb.
But VR has a twin: augmented reality. If VR means slapping on a head-mounted display and waving VR-gloved hands around like a crazy person, augmented reality ("AR") is maybe more immediately useful; it’s most easily defined as the overlaying of extra information onto your perception of the world. Think of what the Terminator sees—a view of the world with extra data popping up all over, giving additional context to the things that you see.
Augmented reality isn’t anything new—military pilots (and some commercial pilots), for example, use heads-up displays that project information onto a reflective screen directly in front of them, allowing them to see the horizon even when it’s cloaked by clouds or darkness or bad weather. Similar heads-up display technology is even becoming common in higher-end automobiles, too—automotive HUDs can mirror a speedometer and tachometer onto your windscreen or even show navigation information.
Last Thursday, the firing of a well-respected reddit employee responsible for facilitating the site’s famous "Ask Me Anything" posts proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, as dozens of the site’s discussion areas were taken offline by moderators in protest. The first subreddit to go offline was the "Ask Me Anything" subreddit at /r/IAmA, primarily so that moderators could figure out what to do after the firing; it was joined over the course of the next twelve hours by more than 200 other subreddits. The protest wasn’t necessarily about Taylor’s firing but rather in response to what the unpaid army of volunteer moderators characterized as a long history of neglect and miscommunication by "the admins"—reddit management.
Though reddit CEO Ellen Pao posted several responses to the protest, they were quickly downvoted into invisibility by angry users. Shortly after noon central time today, Pao made a top-level post to the /r/announcements subreddit, which was quickly voted up to the front page. The post’s title: "We apologize."
"We screwed up," the post begins bluntly. "Not just on July 2, but also over the past several years. We haven’t communicated well, and we have surprised moderators and the community with big changes. We have apologized and made promises to you, the moderators, and the community, over many years, but time and again, we haven’t delivered on them. When you’ve had feedback or requests, we haven’t always been responsive. The mods and the community have lost trust in me and in us, the administrators of reddit."
The Senate Intelligence Committee secretly voted on June 24 in favor of legislation requiring e-mail providers and social media sites to report suspected terrorist activities.
The legislation, approved 15-0 in a closed-door hearing, remains "classified." The relevant text is contained in the 2016 intelligence authorization, a committee aide told Ars by telephone early Monday. Its veil of secrecy would be lifted in the coming days as the package heads to the Senate floor, the aide added.