Amazon and Apple end exclusive deal on audio books

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Amazon bought audio book supplier Audible in 2008

Apple and Amazon have ended a deal that tied them into an exclusive contract for the supply and sale of audio books.

The deal was signed before 2008 when Amazon bought audio book supplier Audible, which had the Apple iBooks contract.

Pressure from anti-trust regulators in Germany and the European Commission led to the deal being abandoned.

Competition in the audio book market should get a boost now the deal has ended, said regulators.

Fresh supply

The terms of the agreement meant Audible could not offer audio books to any other company and Apple had to take audio books only from Audible.

The investigation into the Apple-Amazon arrangement over audio books was started by the German Federal Cartel Office in late 2015. It responded to complaints from German publishers who said the two tech giants were abusing their market dominance.

In Germany, said the publishers, more than 90% of all downloads of audio books were done via the Apple iTunes store or through the Amazon and Audible websites.

With the deal abandoned, Audible will now be able to supply firms other than Apple with audio books. In addition, Apple can now get audio books from other sources and sign up other publishers who can push their titles through its iTunes and iBooks outlets.

In a statement, competition regulators at the European Commission said they “welcomed” the ending of the exclusivity contract.

“This step is likely to improve competition in downloadable audio book distribution in Europe,” said the statement.

The German Federal Cartel office said it had closed its investigation as a result of Apple and Amazon terminating the exclusive contract.

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Google placed its own ads first, study claims

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In the study, all 1,000 search results pages for the term ‘laptop’ were led by links to Chromebook, a Google product.

Adverts for Google products occupied 91% of the top ad slots on the firm’s search results pages, in a study done for the Wall Street Journal.

Advertising data firm Semrush analysed 25,000 pages for the study.

It looked at 1,000 results for 25 search terms including laptop, watches, speakers and smoke detectors on Google.

Products sold by Google’s parent firm Alphabet dominated the top of the results. Google said it had strict rules for buying its advertising space.

A spokesman said that the firm’s marketing policies were “consciously and carefully designed” so as not to intervene with ad pricing.

“All our bids are excluded from the auction when determining the price paid by other advertisers and we have strict rules and processes – set to tougher levels than our customers – to govern the use of our own ads products,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that in all 1,000 searches for the term “laptop” in the study, the top result was for Google’s Chromebook.

Additionally 98% of searches for “watches” resulted in links to Android smartwatch retailers appearing on top.

Android and Chromebook are both owned by Alphabet.

It also noted that alarm products by another Alphabet firm, Nest, featured highly in searches for smoke detectors.

The paper added that after sharing the results with Google many of the ads disappeared – and a BBC test found that other brands including Apple, Lenovo and Apollo now appear to dominate the top of results pages for these terms.

In July 2016 the European Commission alleged that Google had abused its dominance in internet shopping and restricted competition – which the firm denied.

‘Algorithmic world’

“We think when we look at the screen that Google is placing its ads above others but advertising doesn’t work in that way,” said Daniel Knapp, senior analyst at IHS.

“It may be that Google is willing to pay more than others or that it has better targeting data for identifying users. The method of the [Wall Street Journal] experiment may also be flawed.”

The advertising auctions are automated and run by algorithms, he added.

“We live in an algorithmic world. How are these algorithms making decisions on our behalf and how is that distorting markets and society in general?” he said.

“This is an example of a much bigger underlying issue.”

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Nintendo signals end for Wii U

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Nintendo has signalled the “end of life” for its Wii U games console, which was first released in 2012.

Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo America, told Polygon that Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would be the company’s final game for the device.

“We really are at the end of life for Wii U,” he said.

The Wii U struggled to match the success of the original Wii device. It will be succeeded by the Nintendo Switch console in March.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – the latest instalment in one of the best-selling game franchises of all time – was first announced in 2013.

But the game has faced multiple delays and will now be released on the Wii U and Nintendo Switch simultaneously.

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Mario Kart 8 was the Wii U’s best-selling game – 8 million copies were sold

Nintendo has previously indicated that the production of Wii U hardware was due to end.

However, Mr Fils-Aime said that the company would continue to provide online services for Wii U players, and that third-party publishers may still decide to release software.

Where did Wii go wrong?

by Chris Foxx, BBC technology reporter

The original Wii with its quirky motion-controlled party games quickly became Nintendo’s best-selling home console, so it’s easy to see why the company wanted to ride that wave.

But critics say the Wii U name confused shoppers, making it sound like an accessory or enhanced version of the original console.

Others say Nintendo fudged the marketing, with confusing messages about what the new touchscreen controller could do.

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Critics say the Wii U message was confusing

In some games it worked as a “second screen” to display maps or inventory – but few third-party games properly supported it.

It could also be used to play without a TV, as long as you were at home, and near the console, and playing a game that supported it.

For many gamers, the Nintendo Switch is what the Wii U should have been: a device that operates consistently as a handheld and home console.

Now, as Nintendo presses its final discs for the short-lived Wii U, it must convince players that its next console is worth the investment.

Nintendo’s greatest hits

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Getty Images

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The DS was Nintendo’s best-selling device

DS (2004) – handheld – 154 million sales

Game Boy (1989) – handheld – 119 million

Wii (2006) – console – 102 million

Game Boy Advance (2001) – handheld – 82 million

NES (1983) – console – 62 million

3DS (2011) – handheld – 62 million

SNES (1990) – console – 49 million

N64 (1996) – console – 33 million

GameCube (2001) – console – 22 million

Wii U (2012) – console – 13 million

Source: Nintendo, September 2016

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Photos show ‘weaponised commercial drones’ in Iraq

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Mitch Utterback

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The consumer drones have been modified to carry explosives

Photos taken in Mosul, Iraq, appear to show grenade-dropping drones used against the Iraqi security forces.

The improvised weapons consist of a plastic tube attached to a consumer camera drone to carry explosives.

The images were taken by former US Army special forces officer Mitch Utterback, who was in the country as a journalist.

Last week a US Army commander said so-called Islamic State fighters were using such weapons as they tried to avoid losing control of the city.

“It’s not as if it is a large, armed UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that is dropping munitions from the wings – but literally, a very small quadcopter that drops a small munition in a somewhat imprecise manner,” said Col Brett Sylvia.

Islamic State has previously used drones to record footage for propaganda videos and for aerial surveillance, as well as creating improvised weapons.

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Mitch Utterback

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Mr Utterback shared photographs of the modified drones with the BBC

In October, two Kurdish Peshmerga fighters were killed in northern Iraq when a modified drone exploded.

Many off-the-shelf drones can fly for up to half an hour, have a range of several miles and retail for less than £1,000. making them affordable for militant groups.

“The group is known for turning things they can get hold of into weapons,” said Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the UK military think tank Rusi.

“While it shows innovation, the main threat from drones is far and away the ability to hover a camera drone and adjust aim of more direct weapons.”

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Mitch Utterback

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Mr Utterback said the drones were designed to drop 40mm grenade rounds

Mr Utterback told the BBC the devices’ electronics had been modified to release grenades.

“We saw these every day. The Iraqi forces are very concerned with them,” he said.

Drones can be difficult to shoot down, but new weapons are being developed to tackle them.

Some aim to disable to devices by blocking the radio signals they require to be controlled.

“Commercial drones tend to operate in the 2.4 gigahertz range, they are relatively easy to jam,” said Mr Bronk.

“They are difficult to spot and shoot down, but if you have jamming capabilities you can deny them airspace.”

Mr Utterback said the Iraqi forces he had been visiting had had some success shooting down the drones.

“When spotted, every rifle and man-carried machine gun opens up to try and shoot them down,” he told the BBC.

“Almost half the time, they are successful.”

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Facebook urged to be more transparent over ‘censorship’

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A coalition of more than 70 civil rights groups has urged Facebook to be clearer about the content it removes.

In a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, the group accused the social network of “disproportionate censorship of Facebook users of colour”.

The coalition wants the site to specify which rule a deleted post has broken, and provide an appeal process.

Facebook has previously responded to a letter submitted by the group, but has not yet replied to the latest one.

The social network sometimes removes content that has been reported or flagged by members, if it is judged to have broken the website’s guidelines.

But the coalition argued that the moderation was “racially biased”.

“Activists in the Movement for Black Lives have routinely reported the takedown of images discussing racism and during protests, with the justification that it violates Facebook’s community standards,” the coalition wrote.

“At the same time, harassment and threats directed at activists based on their race, religion, and sexual orientation is thriving on Facebook.

“Your recent response indicates you are adequately addressing the problem. We disagree.”

The social network has faced a variety of complaints over perceived censorship of content such as political views, nudity and historical photographs.

The coalition behind the letter includes organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Color of Change, and the Center for Media Justice.

It said it wanted Facebook to:

  • provide a process that allowed members to appeal when a post was removed by a Facebook moderator
  • give members a specific explanation of which rules or guidelines had been broken when a post was removed
  • train moderators to better understand and avoid discrimination
  • publish a public report about the number of posts removed by Facebook, and what percentage of them were classed as hate speech

In a statement, Facebook said: “We have received the letter and are reviewing it.”

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Tesla avoids recall after Autopilot crash death

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Tesla will not be ordered to recall its semi-autonomous cars in the US, following a fatal crash in May 2016.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed its investigation after it found no evidence of a defect in the vehicle.

Joshua Brown was killed when his car collided with a lorry while operating in Autopilot mode.

Tesla has stated Autopilot is only designed to assist drivers, who must keep their hands on the wheel.

The feature is intended to be used on the motorway, where it lets cars automatically change lanes and react to traffic.

The NHTSA report said data from the car showed that “the driver took no braking, steering or other actions to avoid the collision”.

Bryan Thomas from the NHSTA said the driver should have been able to see the lorry for seven seconds, which “should have been enough time to take some action”.

‘Inattentive drivers’

The investigation did not find any evidence that the car’s systems “did not perform as designed”.

However, Mr Thomas said there was “industry-wide” concern about the way driver-assistance features were explained and advertised to customers.

“These systems require continual and full attention of the driver,” he said.

“It’s not enough to put [information] in the owner’s manual and hope drivers are going to read that.

“Manufacturers must anticipate how drivers would use the functionality, and that some don’t read the manual.”

He said systems should be designed with the “inattentive driver” in mind.

The NHTSA said it would continue to monitor the safety of Autopilot and would take further action if necessary.

Mr Thomas warned manufacturers that if safety defects were found in semi-autonomous cars, they would have to be recalled, even if the vehicles were capable of receiving over-the-air software updates.

Following the closure of the investigation, Tesla’s chief executive Elon Musk tweeted that the report was “very positive”.

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Thousands warned they may be victims of rogue webmaster

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Police in the Netherlands are contacting more than 20,000 people who they suspect had their data stolen by a rogue web developer.

They say the man coded a backdoor into the sites he built for businesses, to harvest their customers’ data.

He then used the credentials to make online purchases, open gambling accounts and impersonate victims’ family members, police allege.

Credentials for more than 20,000 people were found on the suspect’s computer.

“He has worked for various companies building websites with online shopping functionality,” police said in a statement in October, when they first revealed their investigation.

“It is suspected that he was able to capture usernames and passwords by installing a special script.”

The 35-year-old suspect was arrested last July and the investigation is continuing.

The police have emailed the people whose contact information was found on the suspect’s computer, encouraging them to change their online passwords. They said it was not possible to identify whether all the credentials had been abused.

However, the force has also warned that opportunistic scammers are impersonating the police and are sending out rogue attachments.

The genuine email from the Dutch police did not have an attachment.

“Never download files in emails if you do not know the sender,” the police force advised.

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DNA-testing smartphone aims to tackle drugs resistance

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UCLA, Stockholm University and Uppsala University

Scientists have built a DNA-analysing smartphone attachment that is a fraction of the cost of lab-based kit.

The creators of the phone-powered pathology microscope believe it could be mass produced for less than $500 (£406) a unit.

They say it could help doctors treat cancer, tuberculosis and other diseases more effectively than is sometimes possible in the developing world.

But a UK firm says it is developing a more advanced and cheaper alternative.

Details of the peer-reviewed project are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Drug resistance

The prototype microscope attachment was 3D-printed and developed as a joint effort by the University of California, Stockholm University and Uppsala University.

One of the researchers involved said the tech could help medics examine tissue samples without having to send them to what might be a remote laboratory.

“It can use the information that is carried in our DNA to make diagnoses,” Prof Mats Nilsson told the BBC.

“There are two main areas where this is done today.

“In cancer, where certain mutations in tumours confer resistance to drugs, it can be used to prescribe the right treatments.

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UCLA, Stockholm University and Uppsala University

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This image shows lung cells with genetic mutations captured by the smartphone-based microscope

“And in infectious diagnostics, it’s the fastest way to work out if an infection is viral or bacterial, and, if it’s bacteria, to figure out if it carries antibiotic resistant genes or not.”

To use the device, a sample of the patient’s tissue is put in a container and then placed under a special lens attached to the smartphone’s own camera.

Two laser diodes and a white LED then beam light into the sample in a pre-set sequence, and the resulting images are fed into an algorithm for analysis.

A Nokia Lumia 1020 was used in the experiment – a model known for its picture quality when it was released, in 2013.

But Prof Nilsson said the equipment could be adapted for use with newer smartphones.

And he suggested that an immediate use could be to treat tuberculosis in India and elsewhere.

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Prof Nilsson said the smartphone-powered kit might prove useful in Indian tuberculosis clinics

“Currently it’s a trial and error thing – they start with the first-line drugs even if one knows that only 50% of the patients will respond, since resistance is so widespread,” he said.

“Then it can take three months to follow up, in which the patient can spread the disease.

“So, one should stop doing that and treat patients with the right antibiotics at the time of diagnosis, and the only way to figure that out in the short-term is an affordable and simple DNA test.”

Smaller rival

If the equipment does go into production, it will face competition.

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Oxford Nanopore Technologies

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A UK-based medical tech company says it is developing a more advanced smartphone DNA sequencer

Oxford Nanopore Technologies has already developed handheld equipment that can analyse long sequences of DNA data and other biological molecules, which it says provides a richer set of information than looking for mutations at a single point.

The company is in now in the process of adapting this to create a matchbox-sized device that can be plugged into smartphones, which it plans to release before the end of the year.

Because the forthcoming device will rely solely on electronics-based tests, rather than using camera lenses and lasers, the company believes it will be cheaper to make than the US-Swedish proposal.

“Nanopore-based electronic devices, including those attached to mobile phones such as SmidgION, allow anybody to sequence anything, anywhere,” the company’s chief technology officer Clive Brown told the BBC.

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Galaxy Note 7 recall refuseniks face new action

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The Galaxy Note 7 had been well-reviewed but dozens of the phones overheated

Galaxy Note 7 owners in the US who have ignored the global recall of Samsung’s smartphone face a fresh effort to make them return their devices.

Mobile network Verizon told Fortune magazine that it planned to divert calls made via the phones so that they reached its staff instead.

It follows dozens of reports of the devices overheating and in some cases bursting into flames.

Samsung is expected to reveal the cause of the problem on Monday.

It pulled the product from the market and cancelled further production in October after an earlier botched recall and re-release.

US operators had already released a software update intended to prevent Note 7s from being able to recharge and connect to their networks.

But Verizon said that thousands of its customers had still not returned the devices, possibly because they had managed to prevent the firmware from being installed.

“The recalled Note 7s pose a safety risk to our customers and those around them,” it told Fortune.

It said it would still allow 911 calls to connect to the emergency service, but all other calls would be redirected to its employees, who would demand the return of the handsets.

Customers who refused might be billed the full retail cost of the device, it added.

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Verizon said thousands of the smartphones had not been returned

“This is all about liability,” commented Ben Wood from the CCS Insight tech consultancy.

“People may be willing to accept the risk now, but that could change if they experience a catastrophic incident like it burns down their house or seriously injures someone.

“Samsung and the operators have no option but to put whatever measures in place they can to try and retrieve all the remaining devices.”

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Popular porn sites blocked in Philippines

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The sites have been blocked on the orders of the Philippine government

Popular pornography websites XVideos, Redtube and Pornhub have been blocked by two ISPs in the Philippines.

Customers of Smart and Sun Cellular said they could no longer access the sites on portable devices or desktop computers.

Instead, users see a message saying the sites have been blocked because of anti-child-pornography laws.

The Philippines government has not given any official explanation of why the sites have suddenly been blocked.

However, the country’s National Telecommunications Commission confirmed to CNN that it had ordered all the nation’s ISPs to block access from 14 January,

But social media chatter suggests customers using Globe and other ISPs can still access the sites.

Pornhub recently reported visitors in the Philippines spent the longest average time on its site.

The average viewing time in the Philippines was 12 minutes and 45 seconds, said Pornhub – about three minutes longer than the global average.

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