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Amazon workers in Staten Island reach union vote threshold (www.engadget.com) 01/26/2022 08:01 PM

Workers at JFK8, an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Staten Island, New York, have reportedly collected enough signatures to proceed with a union election vote. A National Labor Relations Board spokesperson, speaking to Reuters, confirmed that the workers had "reached a sufficient showing of interest," confirming a tweet from key organizer Chris Smalls.

That threshold of interest, incidentally, is 30 percent of a given workforce, which was likely a difficult feat given both the size of JFK8 and the nature of its round-the-clock shifts which ensure many coworkers never have cause to meet. More impressive is that this facility is seemingly being organized without the help of an established union, but instead by a new independent group endemic to this particular Fulfillment Center, calling itself the Amazon Labor Union (ALU).

ALU had previously submitted a petition for unionization, but withdrew it late last year after being informed by the NLRB that it had not collected enough signatures. 

Reached for comment, an Amazon spokesperson told Engadget "We’re skeptical that there are a sufficient number of legitimate signatures and we’re seeking to understand how these signatures were verified. Our employees have always had a choice of whether or not to join a union, and as we saw just a few months ago, the vast majority of our team in Staten Island did not support the ALU.”

This milestone comes shortly before Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama are scheduled to hold a re-vote on their own union election — in that instance, under the auspices of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union — on February 4th. A union vote took place at the facility almost exactly one year before, but the NLRB determined that Amazon had interfered in the election. 

In the case of JFK8, Amazon has until Friday to respond with its position. A hearing on the matter is slated for February 16th. 

One of Amazon's seller programs has been found to be unlawful (www.engadget.com) 01/26/2022 07:12 PM

Following an investigation into its Sold By Amazon program, Amazon has agreed to pay the office of Washington State’s attorney general office $2.25 million and provide annual updates on its compliance with antitrust laws. Available between 2018 and June 2020, the program set a pricing floor for certain products, which the Attorney General's office says "constituted unlawful price-fixing."

Amazon enrolled a small number of third-party sellers into the program while it was available. The retailer promised sellers they would earn a guaranteed minimum on their products, provided they agreed not to compete with the company. What’s more, merchants could earn additional revenue if Amazon’s algorithm determined consumers were willing to pay extra for their product, with the company splitting the difference between them. "For example, if a seller and Amazon agreed to a $20 minimum payment and the item sold for $25, the seller would receive the $20 minimum price and share the $5 additional profit with Amazon, in addition to any fees," Attorney General Bob Ferguson wrote. 

According to Ferguson, the problem with the system was that it set the minimum price of a product as the floor of what Amazon would offer to consumers. When the price of their goods increased, some sellers saw a “drastic” decrease in sales, in part because some consumers would opt to buy similar but more affordable products from Amazon and its various private labels. The program, according to the AG, was in violation of antitrust laws.

The state opened its probe into Sold By Amazon in March 2020. The program was discontinued in June of that same year but, according to an Amazon spokesperson, for reasons unrelated to the attorney general’s investigation. As part of its agreement with the state, the company won’t offer the Sold By Amazon program again.

“This was a small program to provide another tool to help sellers offer lower prices, much like similar programs common among other retailers, that has since been discontinued,” the company said. “While we strongly believe the program was legal, we’re glad to have this matter resolved.” When pressed, Amazon declined to say why it did not challenge the resolution.

In recent years, Amazon has faced intense scrutiny related to how it operates its online marketplace. In 2020, The Wall Street Journal published a report claiming the company had been using proprietary seller data to help design and price its in-house products. In a Senate hearing, former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said he couldn’t “guarantee” the company had not misused data from third-party merchants on its platform. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, legislation that would prevent companies like Amazon from favoring their own products over that of their rivals. Like Apple and Google, the company has aggressively lobbied to prevent the bill from passing.

Boom will build a supersonic jet factory in North Carolina (www.engadget.com) 01/26/2022 02:25 PM

Transporation startup Boom is one step closer to bringing back supersonic passenger flight. On Wednesday, the company announced plans to build a manufacturing facility at Piedmont Triad International Airport in North Carolina. Once complete, "The Overture Superfactory" will employ approximately 1,750 workers by 2030 and produce the company’s upcoming Overture supersonic jet, which Boom hopes will start flying passengers in 2029. Construction on the facility is expected to start later this year, with production to follow in 2024. The first jet will roll out in 2025 and then fly in 2026. 

The 400,000 square foot facility will eventually produce aircraft for carriers like Japan Airlines and United Airlines. In 2021, the latter announced it would purchase 15 Overture jets once the plane met its safety and operating requirements. The agreement includes an option for United to buy an additional 35 aircraft, for a total of 50 jets.

Boom claims Overture will revolutionize commercial aviation. It envisions the Mach 1.7 jet flying from San Francisco to Toyko in approximately six hours. On a modern jet plane, you can expect a flight like that to take about 11 hours. What’s more, Bloom claims Overture will be “net-zero carbon” aircraft thanks to its ability to fly on 100 percent sustainable aviation fuels.

The news is another major win for the state of North Carolina. At the end of December, Toyota announced it would build a $1.29 billion battery plant on the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite, a tract of land located in Randolph County. Once complete sometime in 2025, the facility will consist of four production lines capable of producing batteries for approximately 200,000 vehicles per year. 

The 2020 iPad Air is on sale for $539 right now (www.engadget.com) 01/27/2022 11:17 AM

If you missed the sale earlier this month, you have another chance to get $60 off Apple's 2020 iPad Air. At the time of writing this, the green, silver and blue models are down to $539, which is 10 percent off and one of the best prices we've seen in months. We considered this to be the best iPad for most people when it first came out and it remains a great option for those that want a powerful, versatile tablet that won't break the bank.

Buy iPad Air at Amazon - $539

Yes, there are newer iPads available now — even the base 10.2-inch iPad Air received an update last year — but the Air still sits in the middle of Apple's lineup. It runs on the A14 Bionic chipset with a six-core CPU and a four-core GPU, and these discounted models have WiFi 6 support, 64GB of storage and a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina Display with True Tone. The updated, flat-edged design has a USB-C port for charging and a power button with a built-in fingerprint reader for extra security. The iPad Air also supports the second-generation Apple Pencil, so artists and those who prefer to take hand-written notes could use it as their main digital notebook.

While we suggest considering the M1 iPad Pros if you want a true laptop replacement, the iPad Air can act as one, too. It has speedy performance, a 12.5-hour battery life and it can connect to Apple's Smart Keyboard Folio and the Magic Keyboard, so you have a number of ways to turn it into a 2-in-1 machine. There are plenty of perks to the M1 iPad Pros when it comes to productivity, but you'll pay at least $200 more for one of those. So despite the fact that it is almost two years old, the iPad Air remains a good option if you want a tablet that can keep up with you on your busiest days.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

ID.me says it uses more powerful facial recognition than previously claimed (www.engadget.com) 01/26/2022 03:50 PM

The CEO of ID.me, a service used by dozens of states to verify unemployment benefits claimants as well as several federal agencies, has walked back previous claims that the company does not use a more powerful method of facial recognition.

"ID.me uses a specific '1 to Many' check on selfies tied to government programs targeted by organized crime to prevent prolific identity thieves and members of organized crime from stealing the identities of innocent victims en masse," Blake Hall said in a statement. "This step is internal to ID.me and does not involve any external or government database."

That contrasts with comments Hall made earlier this week. "Our 1:1 face match is comparable to taking a selfie to unlock a smartphone," he said. "ID.me does not use 1:many facial recognition, which is more complex and problematic."

The 1:many approach involves matching images against those in a database, whereas 1:1 is a case of ensuring someone matches their own photo. For 1:1 matching, ID.me compares a user's selfie against a piece of government ID that they upload.

Privacy advocates have criticized both approaches. Research has indicated that some facial recognition systems struggle to identify people with darker skin tones, and concerns have been raised about the security risks of storing biometric data.

Hall said ID.me's 1:many check "occurs once during enrollment, and exists to make sure a single attacker is not registering multiple identities. This step is not tied to identity verification. It does not block legitimate users from verifying their identity, nor is it used for any other purpose other than to prevent identity theft."

He claimed data shows that dropping the 1:many check "would immediately lead to significant identity theft and organized crime. The 1:1 Face Match step is the only step used to verify identity as explained in our earlier reports."

According to Cyberscoop, some ID.me workers expressed concern that the company's public statements didn't align with what it was actually doing. "We could disable the 1:many face search, but then lose a valuable fraud fighting tool. Or we could change our public stance on using 1:many face search,” an engineer is said to have posted to an ID.me Slack channel this week. “But it seems we can’t keep doing one thing and saying another as that’s bound to land us in hot water.”

“If companies and the government have to lie about facial recognition in an effort to avoid public scrutiny, they shouldn’t be using it,” Fight for the Future campaign director Caitlin Seeley George said in a statement. “We already know this company is willing to say anything in order to get more government contracts. The CEO of ID.me has been peddling erroneous numbers about unemployment benefit fraud, but the fact that the IRS knew about this discrepancy is a big problem. The only responsible thing for the IRS and any other state or federal agency using ID.me to do is to stop these contracts immediately.”

ID.me came back under the spotlight recently after cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs tried to set up an account, which will be required to log into the Internal Revenue Service's online portal by this summer. Krebs ran into difficulties during the verification process, and ID.me placed him in a queue to join a video call with a live agent. The system gave Krebs an estimated wait time of three hours and 27 minutes.

Hall said ID.me works with 10 federal agencies, 30 states and 540 companies. Last year, some users reported having to wait months to receive their benefits after the system failed to verify their identity. In some cases, folks said they had no success with the video chat system either.

Reddit tests NFT user profile pictures, just like Twitter (www.engadget.com) 01/26/2022 03:23 PM

If you loved/hated Twitter's new NFT user profile pictures, get ready to feel excited/ambivalent about Reddit's offering. TechCrunch reports that Reddit is now testing an NFT profile picture implementation, though it's unclear how it'll actually look to end users. Twitter's hexagonal icons separate NFT owners from lowly round-icon proles, so we'd wager Reddit would also want some way to make crypto fans feel special.

“We’re always exploring ways to provide value for users and communities on Reddit. At the moment we’re testing the ability to use NFTs as profile pictures (avatars) and verify ownership,” Reddit spokesperson Tim Rathschmidt told TechCrunch. “It’s a small, internal test and no decisions have been made about expanding or rolling out the capability.”

Notably, TechCrunch also says Reddit isn't limiting its exclusive profile pics to owners of its own NFT project, CryptoSnoos. If the feature actually gets implemented (and given the current wave of crypto-hype, why wouldn't it?), you'll be able to display whatever NFT you'd like as you browse r/gonewild.

The Morning After: NVIDIA’s RTX 3050 GPU has landed (www.engadget.com) 01/27/2022 07:15 AM

Graphics cards are fetching prices normally reserved for limited-run sneakers — even what you might have paid for the rest of your PC. Beyond gamers and power users, cryptocurrency mining has meant unprecedented demand. Coupled with a global chip shortage and supply chain issues, GPU scalpers and resellers are having field days every time a new card appears.

Enter NVIDIA’s $250 RTX 3050. With 2,560 CUDA cores, a boost speed of 1,777 MHz and 8GB of GDDR6 RAM, it's the company's cheapest GPU yet with ray tracing. However, as Devindra Hardawar notes, it's unclear if the 3050 will actually sell for $250 once it hits stores. It’s meant to come in less than the existing RTX 3060, which launched at $329 but now goes for around $1,000 if you shop around online. Yeesh.

Devindra puts the card through its paces right here.

— Mat Smith

 

The biggest news stories you might have missed

Amazon's 'pay-to-quit' program won't cover most US workers this year

It could be due to staff shortages caused by COVID-19.

According to The Information, Amazon has paused its “pay-to-quit” program for the majority of its workers for 2022, and it's unclear if it will be reinstated. The publication has obtained a copy of Amazon's message to its employees, which was then verified by a spokesperson from the company. Typically, Amazon pays its warehouse workers up to $5,000 to quit their jobs after peak seasons as a way to pare down its workforce in the slowdown that follows.

Continue reading.

Streamers can now get pedals to control their feed

Elgato strikes again.

Elgato has released a Stream Deck Pedal that provides three customizable foot pedals to steer your apps and other broadcasting tools hands-free. You can manage Twitch or YouTube, change cameras and start an OBS transition, all with your feet. The set sells for $115, meaning it’s probably not for beginners. But don’t let that stop you!

Continue reading.

You can shut up Google Assistant by saying ‘stop’

Shush.

You can now get Google Assistant to stop talking with just one word: "Stop." That's it — you don't even have to say "Hey, Google". The official Google Twitter account has announced the small but necessary quality-of-life improvement for the company's speakers and smart displays.

Continue reading.

The 'Legacy of Thieves Collection' is a no-brainer for Uncharted fans

For newbies, this collection is a good place to start.

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Sony

Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection arrives for the PS5 this Friday, almost five years after Naughty Dog last released a new game in the series. The $50 collection features a number of technical and visual enhancements, but the games themselves are identical to the PS4 versions. Visuals-wise, there are three modes, all of which improve over the original PS4 game. A fidelity setting keeps the frame rate at 30 fps but renders the games in full 4K resolution. Performance mode, on the other hand, runs the games at 60 fps with variable resolution. There’s also a Performance+ mode for people with 120Hz TVs — the games run at 120 fps, but locked at 1080p resolution.

Continue reading.

Android apps come to Windows 11 in 'preview' next month

The free upgrade period for Windows 11 is ending soon, however.

Microsoft's Panos Panay has teased the release of a Windows 11 public preview in February that will bring Android apps to the Microsoft Store. The company didn't say how many apps would be available in this test, but they'll be titles found in the Amazon Appstore.

The preview will also include taskbar upgrades that include call mute controls, simpler window sharing and weather. Microsoft has redesigned the Media Player and Notepad apps, too.

Continue reading.

Valve's Steam Deck goes on sale February 25th

Units will begin shipping February 28th.

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Valve

After a two-month delay, Valve's Steam Deck will launch on February 25th. In a blog post, Valve said it would open orders to the first batch of reservation holders that day. They’ll have 72 hours to purchase the gaming handheld, and if they don't, Valve will release their spot to the next person in the reservation queue. Pricing for the Steam Deck starts at $399.

Continue reading

Disney+ will expand to 42 countries this summer (www.engadget.com) 01/26/2022 04:30 PM

Disney+ will come to more parts of the world this summer. On Wednesday, Disney announced the streaming service will expand to 42 additional countries and 11 new territories in the second half of the year. The full list is below, but some of the more notable places where the platform will arrive include South Africa and Poland. Disney didn’t say exactly when it plans to launch the service in each country and territory, nor did it share details on regional pricing. Expect those to come at a later date. 

Disney+ is currently available in 64 countries globally, including the US, UK and Canada. The announcement of an imminent expansion comes after Disney added fewer than expected subscribers during its final fiscal quarter of 2021. Some analysts had predicted the company would add as many as 9.4 million new paying users before the end of the year, but the company instead managed to attract a more modest 2.1 million subscribers. Despite missing Wall Street estimates, Disney said at the time it was still confident it could secure 230 million users before the end of 2024. At the end of 2021, the service had 118 million subscribers globally. 

Here's the full list of countries where the service is expanding to this summer: Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malta, Montenegro, Morocco, North Macedonia, Oman, Palestine, Poland, Qatar, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vatican City and Yemen.

As for territories, the list is as follows: Faroe Islands, French Polynesia, French Southern Territories, St. Pierre and Miquelon Overseas Collective, Åland Islands, Sint Maarten, Svalbard & Jan Mayen, British Indian Ocean Territory, Gibraltar, Pitcairn Islands and St. Helena.

California governor details $10 billion plan to boost electric vehicle adoption (www.engadget.com) 01/27/2022 08:25 AM

Back in 2020, California governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that will ban the sales of new gasoline and diesel vehicles in the state by 2035. While California already represents half the EV market in the US, the state's officials know that they have to offer help and incentives to accelerate EV adoption and reach an all-electric future. They need to take steps so that removing gas vehicles from the market wouldn't hurt consumers. California committed $3.9 billion for its EV-related initiatives last year, and Newsom recently proposed the addition of $6.1 billion to the state's zero-emission vehicle package to bring the total to $10 billion. Now, the governor has detailed what he plans to do with the money.

First off, Newsom is hoping to make EVs more accessible by putting aside $256 million for low-income consumer EV purchases and spending $900 million on deploying affordable charging options to low-income neighborhoods. Another $935 million will also be spent to add 1,000 zero-emission short-haul trucks and 1,700 electric buses to the state's fleet. $1.5 billion will be used to electrify school buses, while $1.1 billion will be used to buy trucks, buses, off-road equipment and fueling infrastructure. California will spend $400 million on the electrification of ports and $419 million to support projects that increase access to zero-emission transportation in low-income communities, as well.

Alvaro Sanchez, Vice President of Policy at The Greenlining Institute non-profit org, said in a statement:

"To achieve California's climate goals we must focus on the needs of the most polluted and underserved neighborhoods. Governor Newsom’s ZEV investment proposal recognizes this reality. We're excited to work with the Governor and the Legislature to prove to the rest of the country that we can not only advance our climate agenda but also advance equity."

You can read more information about the proposal on the governor's website.

The 'Mortal Kombat' movie is getting a sequel (www.engadget.com) 01/27/2022 07:50 AM

Warner Bros. and New Line are creating a sequel to the Mortal Kombat film with Moon Knight writer Jeremy Slater onboard, Deadline has reported. It will follow up the original R-rated film that did decent box office numbers ($83 million world wide) considering the pandemic, and was HBO Max's most successful film to date when it launched last April. 

On top of creating Moon Knight (with Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke), Slater is working on Stephen King's The Tommyknockers adaptation for Universal and an upcoming Netflix movie directed by Travis Knight. He also developed The Umbrella Academy for Netflix. 

The original film was as gory as you'd expect considering the violence of the game, but screenwriter Greg Russo also tried to inject some humor. It's not known if Mortal Kombat director Simon McQuoid will be involved again, but last year he said a sequel could happen "if the fans want another one." 

The original did seem designed to set up another sequel, though, with one one critic describing it as "the homework you have to do before the fun." It received a middling 54 percent Rotten Tomato critic rating, but was appreciated more by audiences that gave it an 86 percent score. 

Dark web news site owner sentenced for role in $8.4 million kickback scheme (www.engadget.com) 01/27/2022 09:19 AM

It's not just the dark web marketplace operators who face the law — sometimes it's the people who facilitate access to those marketplaces. Israeli national and Brazil resident Tal Prihar has been sentenced to eight years in prison for his alleged role in a dark web money laundering scheme. He and co-defendant Michael Phan reportedly received the equivalent of $8.4 million in Bitcoin kickbacks for agreeing to link illegal dark net marketplaces from their news site DeepDotWeb. To hide the cryptocurrency's origins, Prihar laundered the money by transferring payments to other Bitcoin accounts and conventional bank accounts tied to shell companies.

Prihar pleaded guilty in March 2021, and had already agreed to forfeit $8.4 million. Phan is still in the midst of extradition from Israel to face a money laundering charge.

The relatively stiff sentence might be a message to others who'd serve as brokers for illegal dark web outlets. If you knowingly point users to contraband (including illegal guns, hacking tools and drugs) and receive payment for it, you're apparently as culpable as anyone selling those underground items. Whether or not this is an effective deterrent, it's clear the feds don't want to look soft.

College sim 'Two Point Campus' arrives on May 17th (www.engadget.com) 01/27/2022 10:00 AM

Two Point Campus, Sega and Two Point Studios' follow up to Two Point Hospital, will arrive on May 17th. The quirky college life simulator is coming to PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S and Nintendo Switch. Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass subscribers can play at no extra cost on launch day.

You'll be able to build a dream (or nightmare) college campus from the ground up, from residence halls and classrooms to ornamental pathways and forests. Players will be able to give students a college experience packed with relationships and extracurricular activities, such as concerts and a sport called Cheese Ball, and possibly even an education.

Students can take classes such as gastronomy and robotics, and they each have their own character traits to be catered to. Keeping students happy and helping them earn strong grades can boost your college's prestige, allowing you to enroll more students and boost the institution's bank balance.

Pre-orders for most platforms are open today, and will be available on the Switch eShop later. Locking in a pre-order will net you in-game goodies for not only Two Point Campus, but Two Point Hospital as well.

A robotics class in the quirky college life simulation game Two Point Campus.
Sega/Two Point Studios

Strange Milky Way object sends radio bursts a minute at a time (www.engadget.com) 01/27/2022 10:56 AM

Astronomers are still finding strange objects that defy expectations. According to BBC News, researchers from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) have discovered a strange spinning Milky Way object about 4,000 light-years away. The repeating transient sent a giant burst of polarized radio energy for a full minute every 18 minutes, and was appearing and disappearing over the course of a few hours of observations — for context, a pulsar's burst lasts a few seconds or less.

The curiosity is smaller than the Sun, but is one of the brightest radio objects in the sky during its bursts. The disappearances were also unique, according to team lead Dr. Natasha Hurley-Walker. Curtin student Tyrone O'Doherty first spotted the object using the combination of Australia's Murchison Widefield Array and a new observation method.

There might be an existing explanation. Hurley-Walker said the data matched a predicted (but as-yet undiscovered) object known as an ultra-long period magnetar. That is, it's a neutron star spinning at a relatively lethargic pace. Even if that's the case, though, scientists want to know why the object is converting magnetic energy to radio waves at such an efficient rate. It could also be a white dwarf with an unusually strong magnetic field, or something else altogether.

The frenzy appears to have subsided, but Hurley-Walker is still tracking the object in case it exhibits the odd behavior again. She also plans to sift through the Murchison array's archives to learn if there were similar objects before. Whatever this entity might be, the findings are significant — they could shape our understanding of stars and the universe at large.

Tesla kept its record 2021 profits rolling right through Q4 (www.engadget.com) 01/26/2022 05:15 PM

Following a profitable — and, ahem, notable — 2021, Tesla remains at the forefront of EV production in America as we enter the new year. With deliveries up nearly 90 percent over 2020’s figures, Tesla achieved “the highest quarterly operating margin among all volume OEMs,” during that time frame, according to the company’s Q4 figures released Wednesday The company not only hit $5.5 billion in net income despite a $6.5 billion outlay for new production facilities in Berlin and Austin, Texas, it also exceeded its own revenue goals by a cool billion dollars.

In 2021, Tesla produced 930,000 electric vehicles (99 percent of which were Model 3s and Ys) and delivered 936,000 of them to customers around the world. At the same time, the company expanded its proprietary Supercharger network by a third, now totalling 3,476 stations. The company also announced that it will likely be looking at new production facility locations throughout 2022 but is not yet ready to share its list of candidate sites just yet.  

Tesla CEO Elon Musk doubled down on his bullish outlook for the company's Full Self-Driving feature on Wednesday's call. "Over time, we think Full Self-Driving will become the most important source of profitability for Tesla," he said during the call, noting that Tesla expanded its FSD beta program from a few thousand vehicles in Q3 up to nearly 60,000 vehicles in Q4.

However, he also confirmed that the company will not be releasing new vehicle models in 2022, including the Roadster, Cybertruck, or the rumored "$25,000 car" the company has been reportedly developing. "If we were to introduce new vehicles, our total vehicle output would decrease," due to ongoing processor chip supply chain woes, Musk explained.

Despite those same issues impacting the rest automotive industry as well, Tesla maintained its production capabilities better than virtually any other automaker. The Fremont factory churned out around 600,000 vehicles last year with plans to increase that figure even after the Austin and Berlin plants come online later this year. Production in the Shanghai plant continues to ramp up as well. According to Tesla, it has managed to lower the per unit cost of producing its vehicles to around $36,000 (and did so in both Q3 and Q4, 2021).

Update 1/27/22 0:55AM ET: The 2021 production and delivery figures in this article have been corrected.

Renault Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance confirms plans to build 35 new EVs by 2030 (www.engadget.com) 01/27/2022 06:34 AM

The Renault Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance has announced plans to spend $25.8 billion (€23 billion) with the aim of having 35 EVs by 2030. As part of that, the group will develop five new platforms shared across brands with 80 percent common usage as part of a "smart differentiation" strategy. Nissan teased one of the first cars based on one those platforms, an all-electric compact that will be sold in Europe to replace the automaker's popular Micra. 

The Alliance is focusing on pure EVs and "intelligent & connected mobility." It aims to increase commonality between vehicles with a "smart differentiation" system that allows pooling for platforms, production plants, powertrains and vehicle segments. "For example, the common platform for the C and D segment will carry five models from three brands of the Alliance (Nissan Qashqai and X-Trail, Mitsubishi Outlander, Renault Austral and an upcoming seven-seater SUV)," Renault Group said in the press release.

To that end, it unveiled five separate platforms, including the affordable CMF-AEV that's the base for Renault's budget Dacia Spring model, the mini vehicle KEI-EV platform for ultra-compact EVs and the LCV for commercial vehicles like the Renault Kangoo and Nissan Town Star. Another is CMF-EV, currently used by the Alliance for crossovers like the Nissan Ariya and Renault Megane E-Tech. 

Finally, the CMF-BEV platform will be used for compact EVs but reduce costs by 33 percent and consumption by 10 percent compared to the current Renault Zoe. It'll be the base for 250,000 vehicles per year under the Renault, Nissan and Alpine brands, including the Renault R5 and Nissan's upcoming EV to replace the Micra.

Nissan teased that vehicle in a separate press release, showing it off in a shadowy photo and brief video (above). While it has no name, price or launch date, it'll be built at the Renault ElectriCity center in Northern France. "This all-new model will be designed by Nissan and engineered and manufactured by Renault using our new common platform, maximizing the use of our Alliance assets while maintaining its Nissan-ness," said Nissan CEO Ashwani Gupta. "This is a great example of the Alliance"s 'smart differentiation" approach."

Renault Group said it would use a common battery strategy as well, aiming for 220 GWh of production capacity by 2030. It plans to reduce battery costs by 50 percent in 2026 and 65 percent by 2028. It's aiming to develop all-solid-state batteries (ASSB) by 2028, with Nissan in charge of that project "based on its deep expertise and unique experience as a pioneer in battery technology." 

The Alliance also said it aimed to have 25 million vehicles connected to its cloud system by 2026 that would allow for Tesla-like OTA (over the air) updates. "The Alliance will also be the first global, mass-market OEM to introduce the Google ecosystem in its cars," Renault Group said. 

The news follows Renault's announcement that it would electrify two thirds of its cars by 2025, with about 90 percent EVs in its lineup by 2030. Renault and Nissan ruled out a closer partnership last year, with Renault saying the companies "don't need a merger to be efficient." With the new platforms and cooperation announcement, it appears that the common platforms with "smart differentiation" will be key to that. 

Spotify will remove Neil Young music following Joe Rogan dispute (www.engadget.com) 01/26/2022 04:35 PM

Spotify already has an answer to Neil Young's ultimatum following outrage over allegations Joe Rogan is spreading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. As The Wall Street Journalreports, Spotify is in the midst of removing Young's music from the streaming service worldwide. His (very large) catalog was still available as of this writing, but we'd suggest listening to Harvest one more time just in case.

Young has reportedly been in talks with Spotify and his label Warner Records since posting an open letter threatening to pull his albums. The artist made the formal request on Wednesday (January 26th), and the music is apparently poised to disappear within "several hours."

In a statement to Engadget, Spotify said it "regret[ted]" Young's decision and hoped to have him back "soon." It also defended its anti-misinformation practices, claiming it accepted a "great responsibility" in juggling both listener safety and creator freedom. The company added it had pulled over 20,000 podcast COVID-related episodes since the pandemic began. It didn't say why it was still hosting Joe Rogan Experience episodes that contained misinformation, though, including unsupported claims from Dr. Robert Malone that "psychosis" led people to believe vaccines were effective.

Spotify also didn't offer reasons for its decision. However, the company is believed to have paid over $100 million to land a multi-year distribution deal with Rogan. While the exact terms of the agreement aren't clear, Spotify might suffer financial and legal consequences if it pulls Rogan's episodes. CEO Daniel Ek has also argued that his firm doesn't have editorial responsibility despite its recent practices.

You can read Spotify's full statement below:

We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators. We have detailed content policies in place and we’ve removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to welcome him back soon.

Apple will reportedly allow iPhones to accept contactless payments (www.engadget.com) 01/27/2022 05:15 AM

Small businesses might soon be able to accept payments using their iPhones without the need for extra hardware. According to Bloomberg, Apple could start rolling out the feature through a software update in the next few months, perhaps with the final version of iOS 15.4 that's coming out this spring. Apple has reportedly been working on the service since 2020, when it purchased a Canadian startup called Mobeewave known for developing a technology that turns a phone into a payment portal.

Mobeewave's technology only needs an app and the phone's NFC to work, unlike services like Square that require the use of an external hardware. The user simply has to type in the amount they want to charge, and their customer only needs to tap their credit card onto the back of the device. Apple declined Bloomberg's invitation to comment, so it's unclear if that's how its built-in iPhone feature will work, as well. 

In addition, Bloomberg's sources couldn't say whether the feature will be rolled out as part of Apple Pay. The team developing the feature, however, has reportedly been working with the tech giant's payments division since Apple purchased Mobeewave. Whether Apple is launching the service with an existing payment network is also unknown at this point. 

Before its acquisition, Mobeewave teamed up with Samsung to turn its phones into contactless payment terminals. They piloted the feature in Canada and even gave the company's point-of-sale service, dubbed Samsung POS, a wide release in the country. 

YouTube bans Fox News host Dan Bongino for evading suspension (www.engadget.com) 01/26/2022 04:14 PM

Fox News host Dan Bongino is no longer welcome on YouTube. The company confirmed to The Hillthat Bongino is now permanently banned from its video platform, after he attempted to evade a prior suspension related to COVID-19 misinformation. The conservative commentator apparently published a video on his main channel while another channel was suspended, thereby violating YouTube's Terms of Service. Bongino's two channels have been removed from the service, and he won't be able to make any future channels, YouTube representatives told The Hill.

Last September, YouTube announced that it would ban all content related to vaccine misinformation, which was an expansion on its previous ban against COVID-19 misinformation. At the time, YouTube also banned prominent anti-vax proponents like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Joseph Mercola.

Bongino, and many other conservative commentators, have moved over to the alternative video platform Rumble (where he also holds an equity stake). He currently has over 2 million subscribers there, whereas his primary channel had 900,000 subscribers on YouTube. 

Update 1/26/22 5:57pm ET: “When a channel receives a strike, it is against our Terms of Service to post content or use another channel to circumvent the suspension,” YouTube said in a statement. “If a channel is terminated, the uploader is unable to use, own or create any other YouTube channels.”

Anti-work subreddit temporarily goes private after awkward Fox News interview (www.engadget.com) 01/27/2022 04:32 AM

The r/antiwork subreddit forum has temporarily gone private following a rough interview between Fox News personality Jesse Watters and one of the subreddit's moderators, Mashable reported. Other mods said they're dealing with "cleanup from ongoing brigading," or attacks by other subreddits, "and will be back soon." 

Members of the forum felt that the interview didn't reflect well on them, as it focused more on the moderator personally rather than the movement itself. "This person had the chance to prove to the world the problems with the current work culture yet just said 'laziness is a virtue,'" one commenter stated. 

The subreddit's catch-phrase is "Unemployment for all, not just the rich." It has more than 1.7 million users and was the fastest-growing non-default reddit across the site as of this writing. Growth doubled in the last three months alone, as workers tired of COVID-19 pandemic conditions and low wages. 

While it originally started as an anti-capitalism forum, the subreddit is now used to discuss workers' rights, talk about bad bosses, air grievances and more. Previously, the site has been implicated in a hack on business receipt printers to insert pro-labor messages.

"Most of the posts on r/antiwork are from retail and fast food workers, nurses, teachers, and other essential workers who are being screwed over during the pandemic," said another user on Twitter, according to The Independent. "But then... [this moderator] goes on TV and sets the entire thing back by a decade.”

Discord is recovering from a brief but widespread outage (www.engadget.com) 01/26/2022 03:39 PM

A recent and "widespread" API outage had left Discord unusable for some people for part of the day. After reports of the problem started to surface online, Discord began investigating at approximately 2:49PM ET. Minutes later, it said it had identified the underlying issue causing the outage, but noted it was also dealing with a secondary problem related to one of its database clusters. "We have our entire on-call response team online and responding to the issue," the company said at the time. 

At 3:07PM ET, the company implemented a login limit to manage its traffic load, a measure it's now slowly easing as things return to normal. If you can't access your Discord account yet, wait a bit and try again in the next 30 minutes to an hour. 

Update 6:32PM ET: Discord says most users should now be able to log in and use the service again. "Over the next hour, some Discord servers may continue to see some issues interacting with bots using slash commands," the company said. "As part of resolving the incident, we needed to reduce load on our databases and we turned down some parts of our slash command system." Discord promised to share a postmortem once it had more information about what happened. 

TikTok will add PSAs to Holocaust-related content (www.engadget.com) 01/27/2022 03:00 AM

TikTok is adding PSAs and informational resources about the Holocaust in an effort to combat antisemitism in its app. With the changes, TikTok will link to aboutholocaust.org when users search for Holocaust-related content. Holocaust-related hashtags will also link to the website, along with a brief PSA.

“While browsing this topic, we recommend you verify facts using trusted sources, such as the multilingual website (aboutholocaust.org) for essential information about the history of the Holocaust and tis legacy,” the message says. The app will also add a permanent banner at the bottom of Holocaust-related videos that urges users to “get the facts about the Holocaust.” That change will be rolling out “in the coming months.”

Though TikTok’s rules prohibit hate speech, Holocaust denialism and other forms of antisemitism, the app has faced criticism in the past for allowing antisemitic content to spread on its platform. Last year, the Anti-Defamation League published a blog post with a number of examples of “posts perpetuating age-old antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories.” The organization urged TikTok “to address this systematically.”

TikTok is adding educational resources to searches for Holocaust-related content.
TikTok

In its latest statement, TikTok notes that it blocks search results about the Holocaust that may break its rules, and that it uses “a combination of technologies and moderation teams to remove antisemitic content and accounts from our platform, including Holocaust denial or any other form of hate speech directed at the Jewish community.”

Apple rolls out iOS 15.3 and macOS 12.2 to fix a major Safari exploit (www.engadget.com) 01/26/2022 02:35 PM

It's a big day for security updates in Apple-land. The company has rolled out software fixes for just about all of its platforms, including iOS 15.3 and macOS 12.2, 9to5Mac reports. Notably, they fix the Safari vulnerability that could potentially leak your browser history, as well as your Google account information. WatchOS 8.4 and tvOS 15.2, meanwhile, add some performance improvements. And even though the company isn't paying as much attention to its smart speakers these days, it launched HomePod 15.3, which adds Siri support for up to six users speaking English in India, or Italian in Italy. (That's a feature Apple started offering in the US back in 2019.)

While we normally wouldn't stress minor software updates much, iOS and macOS users should deal with that Safari vulnerability as soon as they can. Sure, there aren't any major threats taking advantage of that now, but who knows what malware could pop up in the next month or two. 

Samsung posts record revenue but reveals profit decline for Q4 2021 (www.engadget.com) 01/27/2022 01:11 AM

Samsung's consolidated revenue for the fourth quarter of 2021 reached 76.57 trillion Korean won (US$63.7 billion), the tech giant has revealed in its latest earnings report. That's a quarterly record high for the company, which says that its revenue growth for the period was driven mainly by the expanded sales of its smartphones, TVs and home appliances. 

Its operating profit of KRW 13.87 trillion (US$11.5 billion) in the quarter ending December 31st, 2021 was lower than the previous quarter's, however, due to the bonuses that it doled out to employees for the season. The company has also reported a new historic revenue high of KRW 279.6 trillion (U$232.5 billion) for all of 2021, along with KRW 51.63 trillion (US$42.9 billion) in operating profits. 

Samsung's memory business, which is typically its biggest moneymaker, has experienced a decline in revenue from the previous quarter due to the global supply chain crisis and a slight drop in prices. Further, while demand for memory products remained strong, the company says it didn't push for sales as aggressively as it usually does after considering its inventory levels and the market outlook. The memory division posted a consolidated revenue of KRW 26.01 trillion (US$21.6 billion) and an operating profit of KRW 8.84 trillion (US$7.35 billion) for the fourth quarter of 2021. In the third quarter, it posted KRW 26.41 trillion (US$21.96 billion) in consolidated revenue and KRW 10.06 trillion (US$8.36 billion) in operating profit. 

Samsung's combined mobile and consumer electronics business, now called Mobile eXperience or MX, has posted KRW 28.95 trillion (US$24 billion) in consolidated revenue and KRW 2.66 trillion (US$2.2 billion) in operating profit. The slight increase in revenue was mainly due to the strong sales of its premium smartphones, namely its foldables and its Galaxy S series devices, as well as its PCs, tablets and wearables during the holiday season. Like in the previous quarter, though, the division's profitability was impacted by Samsung's marketing efforts for its foldables and for the launch of its upcoming models this year. 

Meanwhile, the company's mobile panel business saw an increase in earnings due to solid demand for new smartphones. Losses became larger for Samsung's large panel business, though, due to a decline in pricing for LCDs and the initial costs related to its Quantum Dot displays. Samsung also saw strong sales for its premium and lifestyle TVs, but its visual display business recorded a lower operating profit quarter-on-quarter because of rising material and logistics costs.

For 2022, Samsung expects growth in its memory business from higher server demand and in its display panel business from new smartphone releases. However, the company made it clear in its report that it also expects COVID-related supply issues and other problems to persist and affect its operations. Despite those constraints, it believes its MX business will still deliver revenue and profit growth led by its new flagships and by higher sales of its mass market 5G smartphones. Samsung has an Unpacked event scheduled on February 9th, where it will unveil the next S-series flagship to succeed the Galaxy S21 lineup.

White House tells agencies to adopt the 'Zero Trust' security model (www.engadget.com) 01/26/2022 01:51 PM

The White House wants the government to adopt a security model called Zero Trust within the next two years. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a finalized federal strategy that lays out the initial details of the shift.

It told agencies to each designate a strategy implementation lead within 30 days. Agencies were given 60 days to submit an implementation plan to the OMB and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). 

"This memorandum sets forth a federal Zero Trust architecture (ZTA) strategy, requiring agencies to meet specific cybersecurity standards and objectives by the end of fiscal year (FY) 2024 in order to reinforce the government’s defenses against increasingly sophisticated and persistent threat campaigns," OMB acting director Shalanda D. Young wrote in the memo. "Those campaigns target federal technology infrastructure, threatening public safety and privacy, damaging the American economy and weakening trust in government."

The Zero Trust approach is based on the notion that local devices and connections can't be completely trusted. Users need to be authorized, authenticated and continuously validated. Organizations usually have control over Zero Trust setups, and users and devices are often only granted access to essential data, apps and services.

Google offers a Zero Trust solution called BeyondCorp. Last week, a company called Sikur revealed a smartphone it designed using Zero Trust principles.

The release of the strategy follows an executive order President Joe Biden signed last year with the aim of improving the country's cybersecurity, as well as a draft strategy that the OMB published in September.

The finalized strategy lays out a vision for the government in which staff have "enterprise-managed accounts, allowing them to access everything they need to do their job while remaining reliably protected from even targeted, sophisticated phishing attacks." The devices would be continuously monitored and each agency's system would be isolated, with reliable encryption for internal network traffic and sending data to other agencies.

Under this approach, enterprise applications would be tested internally and externally before staff could access them over the cloud. The OMB also said federal security teams and data teams would work together "to develop data categories and security rules to automatically detect and ultimately block unauthorized access to sensitive information."

The strategy directs agencies to harness strong, phishing-resistant multi-factor authentication, perhaps using physical methods like Personal Identity Verification cards. The OMB also told agencies to have a full inventory of devices that are authorized and used for official business and to make sure they meet CISA standards.

The White House cited the Log4j vulnerability that recently emerged as the latest proof that "adversaries will continue to find new opportunities to get their foot in the door."

"This strategy is a major step in our efforts to build a defensible and coherent approach to our federal cyber defenses,” national cyber director Christopher Inglis said in a statement. “We are not waiting to respond to the next cyber breach. Rather, this administration is continuing to reduce the risk to our nation by taking proactive steps towards a more resilient society."

Wyze will discontinue its first camera on February 1st (www.engadget.com) 01/27/2022 11:24 AM

Almost five years since it released its first security camera, Wyze is putting the device out to pasture. The company says it will retire Wyze Cam v1 on February 1st, because the camera is unable to support a required security update.

Wyze told customers in an email that they'll still be able to use the camera after the end of this month, but it won't "sell, improve or maintain" it as of February 1st. The company added that "your continued use of the Wyze Cam v1 after February 1, 2022 carries increased risk, is discouraged by Wyze and is entirely at your own risk," though it didn't offer more details.

As a thank you for buying its first product, Wyze offered customers a coupon for $3 off their next camera. The Wyze Cam v3 typically costs $36.

Earlier this month, Wyze announced a pay-what-you-want plan for its cameras. Users will need to opt into the new Cam Plus Lite service (which they don't need to pay for) or the Cam Plus plan to retain access to cloud storage features as of February 15th. It's unclear whether this change played a role in the decision to retire Wyze Cam v1. 

Engadget has contacted Wyze for comment. 

Thanks, Scott!

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