US Officials Signal Move Toward Embracing Self-Driving Cars

Federal transportation officials are rethinking their position on self-driving cars with an eye toward getting the emerging technology into the public’s hands.

Just two years ago, the US Department of Transportation struck a cautious tone. Its official policy statement, published in May 2013, says cars should be limited to testing and not “authorized for use by members of the public for general driving purposes.”

With the technology’s rapid development, that federal policy is being updated, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Tuesday.

“I want the posture of our agency to be obviously vigilant on the safety front, but I don’t want our agency to be skittish about innovations that are out there,” Foxx said.

It’s unclear what the new policy will be, but Foxx clearly signaled that the technology intrigues him. He told reporters that he hoped the update overseen by his department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would be ready in “weeks, not months.”

For several years, Google and a handful of automakers including Tesla Motors, Nissan and Honda have been testing prototypes equipped with a suite of sensors and cameras on public streets and highways, mostly in California.

Those cars must have someone behind the wheel, ready to take over. Some have gotten into collisions, though in each case the companies say a person in another car caused the accident.

Google has advocated getting self-driving cars into the public domain as quickly as possible once the tech titan concludes the technology is safe.

While states have taken the lead on regulating self-driving cars, policymakers in Washington hold indirect sway over states’ decision-making. California’s Department of Motor Vehicles in particular has sought federal guidance as it struggles with how to move the cars safely from small-scale road tests to broader adoption.

Language that the federal government is revisiting specifies that in states where the public can get access to the cars, a licensed driver should be behind the wheel.

Google sees that as unnecessary. It has argued that once cars can drive as safely as humans, it would be better to remove the steering wheel and pedals so that people don’t mess up the ride.

A Google spokesman had no comment on word of the federal review.

The California State Transportation Agency has interpreted the 2013 federal guidance as urging caution. The federal update “reaffirms that the topic is evolving and one worthy of continued discussion and public input,” spokeswoman Melissa Figueroa said.

The Department of Motor Vehicles is working to publish draft regulations by year’s end, Figueroa said.

The draft was due last January 1, but concerns such as proving that the technology is safe have held up those rules.

The nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog has been advocating restraint.

“The California DMV correctly is focused on getting the regulations correct, rather than rushing them out the door,” John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog said in a written statement Tuesday. Federal authorities must “not succumb to corporate pressure to move so fast that our safety on the highways is compromised.”

Amazon Forces Some Customers to Reset Passwords

Amazon has forced an unknown number of account holders to change passwords that may have been compromised, just as it heads into one of the busied shopping days of the year.

Tech news site ZDNet first noted the issue after multiple readers reported receiving an e-mail saying that the online retailer had set their passwords. They were also notified of the change through the site’s account message center, ZDNet reported, which confirmed their legitimacy.

The e-mail sent to affected users said that the company had “recently discovered that your [Amazon] password may have been improperly stored on your device or transmitted to Amazon in a way that could potentially expose it to a third party,” according to ZDNet. The messages said there was “no reason” to believe passwords were actually revealed to a third party and it was taking action out of “an abundance of caution.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to a Washington Post request for comment on the situation that requested information about the cause of the incident and how many people were affected. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.)

Last week, Amazon.com started to offer two-factor authentication for customers a security measure that requires users to verify their identity through a second method, typically a code sent via e-mail or text message.

While the pre-Black Friday timing is less than ideal for Amazon, it’s not the first time the company has reset customer passwords. Back in 2010, Consumerist reported that some customers had their passwords reset after the company discovered their e-mail and passwords were posted online. In that case, the company said password re-use by customers was to blame, rather than any leak from its own systems.

Security Researchers Warn of New, Stealthy Malware to Steal Card Data

Just as millions of Americans are steeling themselves for the holiday shopping season, cyber-securityresearchers are warning about a stealthy malware aimed at stealing credit card and debit card numbers from retailers.

Cybersecurity firm iSight Partners on Tuesday revealed research about the malware, dubbed ModPOS, which the company says is largely undetectable by current antivirus scans. The firm declined to name specific victims of the threat, but it said its investigation uncovered infections at “national retailers.”

The revelation comes as the retail industry is reeling from a wave of breaches uncovered since Targetwas hit during the 2013 holiday season.

“It’s the most sophisticated point-of-sale malware we’ve seen to date,” said Maria Noboa, an iSight senior threat analyst. Instead of being just one piece of software, it’s a complex framework of multiple modules and plug-ins. Those parts combine to collect a lot of detailed information about a company, including payment information and personal log-in credentials of executives, she said.

The company has been tracking the malware for two years, Noboa said. But the process has been difficult because it goes to great lengths to hide itself, relying on techniques such as encryption – a common digital security tool that scrambles data – to slip past investigators, she said.

“We didn’t really even know what we were looking at initially because it’s so complex,” she said.

In recent months, the company coordinated with the Retail Cyber Intelligence Sharing Center (R-CISC) to warn the industry about the threats.

Information sharing has been significant for retailers fending off cyberthreats, said Tom Litchford, vice president of retail technology for the National Retail Federation – but so have efforts to limit the amount of consumer information that retailers’ systems can see.

“We have pretty sophisticated criminals out there – and as long as we have data they can monetize, they’re going to try to go after it,” he said.

One way the companies try to limit their exposure is using more advanced forms of encryption to protect consumer data. With one method, known as point-to-point encryption, a consumer’s payment card data is unlocked only after it reaches the payment processor, he said.

A survey of NRF’s members found that 41 percent had such a system in place by the end of September, he said, and the group expects that figure to rise to 85 percent by the end of the year.

Security experts warn that without such protections, even new credit cards with a chip technology known as EMV could still be compromised by infected point-of-sale systems. That’s because even with the new technology – which was rolled out to improve security – stolen card data could still be used for fraud in situations where a card is not physically present, such as online purchases.

Noboa considers fully encrypted transactions an important part of fully protecting EMV payment systems, but she warned that consumers have no way to know whether a company is using the technology. The spying powers of ModPOS mean that customers may still be at risk if their data is handled by a business infected with the malware, because it is “able to do so many things,” she said.

Noboa said the company is going public about the malware to warn shoppers before the holiday season is in full force.

Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said the company doesn’t typically discuss reports on specific malware types. But, she said, the company recognizes “that cyberthreats are continually evolving” and has “teams of experts that work around the clock to continually help protect the company and our guests.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by many within the industry.

“We’re in a heightened state of awareness,” said R-CISC executive director Brian Engle. “The holiday season is key for retailers.”

YouTube Kids App Faces Complaints Over Ads

Visit YouTube Kids and typically it will not be long before promotions for junk food appear. The advertisements regularly show up in the form of funny contests and animated stories.

In complaints filed to federal officials Tuesday, two prominent consumer advocacy groups argued that those ads were deceptive, particularly for children. The two complaints, made to the Federal Trade Commission, expand on the groups’ filings to the agency in April and could increase pressure on federal officials to intervene in the fast-growing online video market.

The groups, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, argue in the complaints that online video aimed at children is too commercialized and is not held to the same standards that apply to cable and broadcast TV. The complaints call for an investigation of food marketers, video programmers and Google, which owns YouTube, as well as for a broad examination of advertising of such food to children online.

“You have digital natives consuming content simultaneously with the growth of powerful marketing at children at the earliest ages,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “The agencies are lagging and the companies are emboldened.”

Google introduced YouTube Kids in February as a mobile app “built from the ground up with little ones in mind,” according to a blog post by the company. The app is geared for children of preschool age and older. After downloading the app on a mobile device, parents are guided through a tour of how to set safety features, like the option to block searching. The videos on the platform are selected from the main YouTube site through algorithms set to pick child-related content.

The groups expand on their April complaints by asking the FTC to examine the advertising practices of food companies, and by citing new evidence of junk food ads on the app. In the new complaint, the groups argue that more than a dozen food companies have fallen short of their own promises to abstain from marketing junk food to children on YouTube Kids. The groups say that brands like Burger King, Coca-Cola, ConAgra Foods and American Licorice have commercials on the app for products including potato chips and chocolate bars.

While the groups direct blame toward marketers, they also criticize YouTube for not enforcing its own policies. YouTube restricts paid advertising of food and beverages on its children’s app, but the groups said their review of the app found many examples in which food companies used their own branded channels to show promotional videos. The groups asked for an investigation into uploaded TV commercials from unknown YouTube Kids accounts to determine whether there were connections between the food companies and those channels.

The Federal Trade Commission has been reviewing the April complaint, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is private. The FTC usually accepts complaints and begins at least a preliminary review process.

Any investigation of the previous complaint and the new filings would not be public, said Jessica Rich, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC. “We welcome and we review carefully all such complaints submitted to us,” she added.

The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a coalition of major food and beverage companies that is mentioned in the complaint, said it had complied with its commitments. The organization said the companies did not place food ads on YouTube Kids, but it had seen how their ads could appear via the search function. The group said it had asked Google to find a technology fix to prevent the ads from appearing there.

The group’s “participants are not purchasing advertisements on the YouTube Kids app, even for foods that meet CFBAI’s nutrition criteria,” it said in a statement.

For children’s television programming, there are clear rules that limit the length of commercials, as well as restrictions on product placement and on the promotion of products by TV hosts and characters. The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, formed in 2006, promised not to advertise any products that did not meet certain nutritional standards to children under 12 on TV or online.

YouTube Kids states in its parental guide that it cannot be responsible for user-generated content by branded channels or third parties.

YouTube said last week that the app had been downloaded more than 10 million times and had received strong ratings in app stores.

The company said parents could turn off the search function to help in blocking content they do not want to reach their children. YouTube said Tuesday that it had not seen the complaints but, a spokeswoman said, “We are always open to feedback and are committed to creating the best experience for families.”

The lines between marketing and advertising are often blurred, the groups said in their complaint. They asked the FTC to investigate what appeared to be promotional videos by YouTube creators and said the agency should enforce its disclosure rules on paid sponsorships.

“There is just so much commercial content, and more of it all the time,” said Angela Campbell, a professor at Georgetown Law School and an author of the complaints. “And if they are trying to sell something, they aren’t making it obvious even to an adult. So to a kid, that is fundamentally unfair.”

HP’s Last Earnings Report Shows Decline

Hewlett-Packard went out with a whimper Tuesday, as the venerable computer-maker issued its final quarterly earnings report as a unified tech conglomerate, showing another drop in sales for most of its business divisions.

HP, which split into two companies at the start of this month, reported Tuesday that sales of its personal computers, printers, commercial software and tech services declined in the quarter ending October 31. The results show many of the challenges both spinoffs are facing.

But in a lone bright spot for the new spin-off known as Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Co., the company reported an increase in sales of data-center hardware, including computer servers and networking gear.

Like many of its tech industry peers, the Palo Alto, California-based HP has struggled to keep up with recent industry trends toward mobile and cloud computing. CEO Meg Whitman and the HP board decided last year to split the pioneering Silicon Valley company, founded in 1939, into two new companies. One is focused on PCs and printers, while the other sells commercial tech products.

The latest results were not a good sign for the spinoff known as HP Inc., as the company reported sales of PCs and printers were both down 14 percent from the same period a year earlier. HP Inc. also forecast adjusted earnings for the current quarter will be within the range of 33 to 38 cents a share, which is lower than the 42 cents analysts surveyed by FactSet had predicted.

Shares in HP Inc., fell more than 5 percent in extended trading after the report came out, after closing earlier at $14.64.

The news was better for the new HP Enterprise. While sales of high-end servers, software and tech services were down, the company said sales of its “industry standard” servers grew 5 percent and networking gear rose 35 percent. HP Enterprise is forecasting adjusted earnings for the current quarter will be within the range of 37 to 41 cents a share, while analysts were expecting 43 cents a share.

Shares in HP Enterprise rose more than 2.7 percent in after-hours trading, after closing earlier at $13.69.

In its last quarter as a combined company, HP reported $1.32 billion in profit on sales of $25.71 billion. Profit was down less than 1 percent from a year earlier, while revenue fell 9.5 percent.

Aamir Khan’s Intolerance Remarks: Snapdeal Apps Downrated in ‘Protest’

E-commerce marketplace Snapdeal’s app is getting a rash of one star ratings on its app on Google Play and App Store due to a recent statement made by its brand ambassador Aamir Khan.

“When I chat with Kiran at home, she says, ‘Should we move out of India?’ That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make. She fears for her child. She fears what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers every day. That does indicate that there is this sense of growing disquiet, there is growing despondency apart from alarm,” the Bollywood actor said, while speaking at the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards.

snapdeal_1starrating_googleplay.jpgAamir Khan’s statement saw a major backlash and became a trending topic on Twitter under the hashtag #AppWapsi. Some people decided to vent their disapproval by leaving the Snapdeal Android and iOS app a bad rating. The app has 67,741 one star ratings on Google Play at the time of filing, though it’s difficult to ascertain how many have been left in the aftermath of Khan’s remarks.

Snapdeal had signed up Aamir Khan as its brand ambassador in March this year. Company spokespersons declined to offer a comment on the development.

 

Snapdeal is neither connected nor plays a role in comments made by Aamir Khan in his personal capacity. Snapdeal is a proud Indian company built by passionate young Indians focused on building an inclusive digital India. Everyday we are positively impacting thousands of small businesses and millions of consumers in India. We will continue towards our mission of creating one million successful online entrepreneurs in India.

This isn’t the first incident of apps being targeted by online activists – earlier this year, Flipkart’s appreceived a number of one-star ratings for its support of zero-rating plans, which it eventually backed down from.

Foodpanda Ties Up With IRCTC to Pilot Food Delivery Scheme

Rocket Internet’s online food ordering platform Foodpanda announced that it has entered into an association with IRCTC to enable meal pre-orders.

While the partnership has materialised, the date of rollout of the pilot, which will start with New Delhi Railway Station, has yet to be confirmed or finalised, a spokesperson for Foodpanda told Gadgets 360.

The association will enable consumers to order meals of their choice through its aggregator model, and will be extending the pilot to Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune and Chennai. Foodpanda didn’t offer a specific timeline for the rollout of the facility.

Passengers will need to order meals at least 2 hours in advance of the train arrival, and Foodpanda says a wide variety of cuisine will be available, deployed by its delivery fleet. Users can pay for the order in advance online, or make on the spot cash payments, the company said.

“Our association with IRCTC will be an offering which addresses a huge consumer need prevailing for years. For long, consumers had limited food options to choose from while travelling with Indian Railways but the newly [re]launched e-catering service by IRCTC (approved by Ministry of Railways) is set to change the way Indians eat while travelling,” said Foodpanda CEO Saurabh Kochhar, in an emailed statement.

Delhi-based TravelKhana, an online marketplace for food ordering and delivery at train stations provides meals in over 2,000 trains currently.

“With progressing times, we aim to offer wider choices to our consumers and are extremely thankful to Foodpanda to have offered partnership with us. We are happy that we will be able to offer wider food choices to our consumers with this association and once our pilot project is successful, we will extend the service to more locations,” said Robin Kalita, Director, Catering Services, IRCTC.

Launched in 2012 in India, Foodpanda claims to provide meals from over 12,000 restaurants across 200 cities in India. Other notable Rocket Internet ventures in India include Jabong and Fabfurnish.

Haptik Partners Ola to Enable Cab Bookings on Chat

Mumbai-based personal assistant app Haptik on Tuesday announced a partnership with Ola that will extend cab booking functionality to its app.

With Ola opening up its API to Haptik, the integration is live on the app – it requires the user to fill in the address details to enable the functionality.

Cab bookings can be made through the travel channel, by tapping on the task menu. A Haptik Assistant then confirms the user’s location, and finds the nearest cab available around them, and makes a booking, combining AI and human inputs on the backend to enable the booking.

haptik_book_cab_body.jpgThe partnership will allow users to book cabs end-to-end with a simple message on chat, on Haptik’s Personal Assistant app across any of the 102 cities that Ola is present in, Haptik said.

“Through this first of its kind integration, users can now book a cab end-to-end over chat on the Haptik app,” said Sudarshan Gangrade, Vice President of Marketing at Ola said in an emailed statement.

The integration is not actually the first of its kind – Niki.ai, an AI-powered bot, currently lets uses book cabs on Ola and Uber. Haptik has previously partnered with redBus for bus ticketing, and ClearTrip for flights and hotel bookings.

“As a full service assistant, one of the most common requests we get is to book cabs”, said Aakrit Vaish, CEO and Co-Founder, Haptik, which claims to have over 500,000 unique users.

Founded in 2013 by Aakrit Vaish and Swapan Rajdev, Haptik has raised $1 million (roughly Rs. 6.6 crores) from Kalaari Capital so far.

Fitbit Charge HR, Surge Fitness Trackers Now Know When You’re Exercising

Fitbit on Tuesday rolled out software updates for its Charge HR and Surge fitness trackers, as well as updates to its iOS and Windows companion apps – with an Android update scheduled to roll out soon. The highlight of the software update is the introduction of SmartTrack, a feature that can detect when a user has started exercising. The software update also included improvements to its PurePulse heart rate monitoring tech for high-intensity workouts.

Meant to detect the start of exercise without user input, SmartTrack automatically detects when a user is performing certain exercises, such as elliptical, outdoor biking, running, walking, and general categories of aerobic workouts (Zumba, cardio-kickboxing and other dance classes) and sports (tennis, basketball and soccer). It then records them in the Fitbit app, and gives an exercise summary, including duration, calories burned and heart rate stats. Users can also select the types of activities they want recognised as exercises, and also adjust how long they must be active before an activity is recorded. By default, that time is set at 15 minutes.

Fitbit has also updated its PurePulse heart rate monitoring technology with better heart-rate tracking experience during and after intense workouts such as boot camp and Zauba. The update is said to be activated when users put their Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge on Exercise Mode and multi-sport modes respectively.

The iOS and Windows app updates brings the Exercise Goals feature, which helps users set weekly exercise goals that are tracked on a daily basis. Goals can be customised as users can choose the number of target exercise days per week and the types of activities to reach the goals. The Exercise Goals feature is also available for Fitbit Charge, Fitbit Flex, Fitbit One, and Fitbit Zip trackers. The app update will arrive for Android soon.

“At Fitbit we’re always working on innovative features that are easy to use and make tracking health and fitness a fun, motivational experience,” said Tim Roberts, VP of Interactive at Fitbit. “Our users find exercise in all parts of their day, including activities like short walks with the dog or a bike commute to work. These new features allow them to focus on their exercise, giving them credit for their most active moments and letting the technology do the work to automatically track progress toward their fitness goals.”

Idea to Buy Spectrum From Videocon in Gujarat, UP West Circles

Idea Cellular, India’s third-biggest mobile phone operator, has agreed to buy radio airwaves in two services areas from smaller rival Videocon Telecommunications for Rs. 3,310 crores ($499 million) to boost its high-speed data services.

The deal comes a month after the government allowed carriers to trade mobile airwaves, a move aimed at improving services in the world’s second-biggest market by number of mobile customers.

India’s increasingly congested airwaves have resulted in problems like calls getting cut in the middle of conversations and connectivity issues, even as more and more users hook on to the Internet from their phones and tablets.

The number of smartphone users in India stood at around 140 million in 2014. It is expected to reach 651 million by 2019, according to a study by Cisco.

Idea, a unit of the Aditya Birla conglomerate and nearly a fifth-owned by Malaysia’s Axiata, plans to use the acquired spectrum for launching 4G broadband services in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh (west), the company said in a statement.

Industry body COAI on Monday released GSM subscriber figures for the month of October. Out of the total 739.44 million GSM subscribers in the country, Idea Cellular held 22.62 percent share with 167.29 million subscribers, adding 0.724 million subscribers in the month. On the other hand, Videocon Telecom lost 51,004 subscribers in the month, and its base reduced to 7.849 million during the reported period.