Twitter Rejects Claims It Snoops on Private User Data Including Direct Messages

Twitter has rebuffed claims by a conservative media outlet that its staff monitor users' private data, including direct messages sent over the social network (via TechCrunch).

Earlier this week, Project Veritas, which hosts sting operation-style videos produced by self-proclaimed "guerrilla journalist" James O'Keefe, posted footage that appears to show Twitter engineers admitting that teams of employees access users' data.

In one brief clip, a senior network security engineer appears to say that the social media company would be able hand over President Donald Trump's data, including deleted tweets and direct messages, to the Department of Justice, subject to a subpoena.

Last week, Twitter criticized Project Veritas in a public statement for its "deceptive" and "selectively edited" report.
We deplore the deceptive and underhanded tactics by which this footage was obtained and selectively edited to fit a pre-determined narrative. Twitter only responds to valid legal requests and does not share any user information with law enforcement without such a request.
Referencing its privacy policies and terms of service which explain how it holds and stores information that users choose to share, Twitter said it is "committed to enforcing our rules without bias and empowering every voice on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules".

Project Veritas has been criticized in the past for using underhand and deceitful methods in its investigations. In November last year, one of its undercover employees was caught trying to bait reporters at The Washington Post by falsely claiming to be a sexual assault victim of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore. 

Twitter regularly reveals the number of legal requests it receives and responds to in its biannual transparency report. The company received 2,111 government information requests in the U.S. and produced at least some information for 77 percent of them during the period between January 1 and June 30, 2017.

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Amazon Starts Taking Pre-Orders from U.K. Customers for Echo Spot

Amazon began taking pre-orders from U.K. customers for its Alexa-powered Echo Spot speaker on Tuesday. Announced along with all-new Echo models in September 2017, the compact display-and-speaker unit has only been available in the U.S. before now.

The Spot is capable of standard Amazon Echo functions like controlling smart home devices and streaming music, but can also show users additional information like song lyrics, weather forecasts, and the time on its 2.5-inch display.


The circular unit can also play content from Amazon Video and YouTube, just like its bigger brother, the Echo Show.

The Echo Spot costs £120, although Amazon is currently offering a discount of £20 per unit when two are bought together (£200). Pre-orders are expected to ship on January 24, which means the entire Echo family will be available to U.K. customers from then on.

The Echo dot was the top-selling Amazon device over the 2017 holiday season, as well as "the best-selling product from any manufacturer in any category across all of Amazon," according to the e-commerce company.

As Amazon's Alexa devices continue to dominate the smart speaker market, Apple has plans to release its own music-focused smart speaker device, called HomePod, early this year.

HomePod will be controlled mainly through the user's voice using Siri, and include access to Apple Music and other expected smart speaker functionalities, like asking about the weather, traffic, setting reminders, timers, and more.

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YouTube Currently Testing New Dark Mode for Mobile iOS App

YouTube appears to be in the testing phase of adding a new dark theme for its official iOS app, according to reports.

Reddit user Dean Cobb revealed on Monday night that a new dark mode was already live as an option in the Settings section of the app after updating to version 13.01.4.

Dark mode via Redditor amievengabereal

However, as of this morning, rollout of the feature still seems to be limited to a handful of users, suggesting a selective server-side activation on YouTube's end.

App Store release notes for YouTube version 13.0.1 make no mention of the dark mode addition either, but we'll update this article if the rollout gains pace anytime soon.

YouTube is a free download for iPhone and iPad. [Direct Link]

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Chinese Consumer Group Demands Answers From Apple Over Older iPhone Slowdowns

Apple's iPhone slowdown controversy extended to China on Tuesday after a Chinese consumer group asked the tech giant for information about iOS updates that reduce the performance of older iPhones (via Reuters).

The Shanghai Consumer Council has written to Apple and requested an explanation for the slowdowns and information about what Apple planned to do to rectify the problem. The consumer group, which is a non-government organization approved by the Chinese authorities, demanded a response by Friday, according to state news agency Xinhua.


The council explained that its query came in response to consumer feedback that old iPhones became sluggish after upgrading the operating system to iOS 10.2.1. It said it had received 2,615 complaints about Apple products and services in 2017, compared to 964 complaints in 2015.

Last month Apple confirmed that it introduced power management features in the update to improve performance and prevent unexpected shutdowns as the battery in the devices starts to degrade. The company faces an increasing number of lawsuits that either accuse the company of intentionally slowing down older iPhones, or of failing to disclose power management changes it made starting in iOS 10.2.1.

For more information about the power management system that Apple implemented in the update, check out our frequently asked questions.

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Foxconn to See More MacBook Orders From Apple in 2018 Despite No Major Upgrades to Line-Up Planned This Year

Apple supplier Foxconn could be about to land a large number of additional MacBook orders this year, according to upstream supply chain sources (via DigiTimes). The increase could come at the expense of Quanta Computer, which has been Apple's major MacBook manufacturer in recent years.

Taiwan-based Foxconn has reportedly been working to boost its chances of notebook orders from Apple by offering attractive quotes, while Apple has not majorly upgraded its MacBook range since 2016's Touch Bar MacBook Pros, and is said to have no plan for one in 2018. Apple will therefore switch MacBook orders to Foxconn for models that are already in mass production as a way to save costs and reduce risks, according to the sources.

Foxconn is expected to begin mass shipments to fulfill the new orders in the second quarter of 2018, said the sources. Foxconn and Quanta both declined to comment on their clients or orders. The sources pointed out that Apple started outsourcing the assembly for some of MacBooks' components to Foxconn's plants in Shenzhen, China in the second half of 2017.
Despite the news, Quanta is expected to remain Apple's biggest supplier going into 2018. According to DigiTimes' research, out of 15 million MacBooks shipped to Apple a year, the shipment ratio between Quanta and Foxconn has been at around 8:2 for the past five years. Last year alone, Quanta had a 79.5 percent share and Foxconn took 20.5 percent.

Quanta is said to be looking to other brand vendors to offset the impact of the loss of orders, as it aims for similar growth to the market average in 2018. The Taiwan-based firm shipped 38.7 million notebooks last year, up 5 percent on year, and is currently the largest notebook supplier for Hewlett-Packard (HP), Apple, Acer and Asustek Computer.

Quanta also maintains orders from Apple for Apple Watch, and is said to be teaming up with Israeli-based augmented reality company Lumus to manufacture lenses for smart glasses. It's not clear if Quanta and Lumus are working with Apple on a future AR headset or smart glasses, but it is a possibility as rumors suggest Apple has a wearable augmented reality product in the works.

Related Roundups: MacBook Pro, Apple VR Project
Buyer's Guide: MacBook Pro (Caution)

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Apple Promotes Subscription-Based Apps With Free Trials in the App Store

Apple has opened a new section of the iOS App Store that promotes subscription-based apps offering free trials (via 9to5Mac).

Called "Try it for Free", the subcategory appears in the Apps tab and is currently home to just four apps, including USA Today, 1Password, Panna: Video Recipes & Classes, and Lake: Coloring Books. Tapping "Free Trial" next to one of the apps takes the user to a screen showcasing the subscription offer (if the app hasn't been previously downloaded), which details how long the trial runs, the recurring cost after the trial ends, and how to download the app.


All of the apps in the subcategory have offered free trials for some time, suggesting Apple is renewing efforts to push subscription-based apps by encouraging users to try them out for a time before committing to recurring payments.

Subscription-based apps tend to divide the user community, but adoption of the model has increased over the last six months. Apple began incentivizing developers to sell their apps for a recurring fee instead of a one-time cost when it made changes to its App Store subscription policies in 2016. Usually, Apple takes 30 percent of app revenue, but developers who are able to maintain a subscription with a customer longer than a year see Apple's cut drop down to 15 percent.

Late last year, Apple also started letting developers offer discounted introductory pricing and time-limited free trials on auto-renewable app subscriptions, based on the idea that subscriptions provide a higher likelihood of an engaged audience.


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Sharp and Japan Display to Compete for iPhone OLED Panel Orders in 2018

More OLED panel makers are gearing up to compete with Samsung and LG for orders from Apple as soon as this year, according to industry sources (via DigiTimes).

Thanks to its existing production capability, Samsung was the sole supplier of OLED display panels for Apple's iPhone X in 2017, which left LG Display under pressure from Apple and scrambling to invest billions in its OLED manufacturing facilities in time to compete for the next round of orders.


That investment appears to be paying off already, with LG Display reportedly in line to supply some OLED panels to this year's new range of iPhones, which is expected to include two new 5.8-inch and 6.5-inch iPhone models with OLED displays. LG Display will supply Apple with the 6.5-inch OLED panels, while Samsung will supply the 5.8-inch panels, according to one report.

Other suppliers now said to be jostling for third and fourth position in the OLED pecking order include Sharp, now a Foxconn Electronics company, and Japan Display (JDI). Both companies are preparing to churn out OLED screens as early as the second quarter of 2018, according to sources, citing Japan-based media reports. Sharp also aims to mount the flexible OLED screens on some of its own premium smartphone models set to launch in 2018, the sources added.

In stark contrast with the state of play early last year, the accelerating trend of Asian suppliers investing in OLED production facilities will "definitely" lead to an excess supply of the panels in the coming years, according to DigiTimes' sources.
China currently has a total of 13 fabs capable of rolling out small- to medium-sized OLED panels. The combined production capacity of these 13 fabs will reportedly reach 350,000 substrates a month if all of them come online, said sources.
The adverse impact of any excess supply is expected to be offset by the increasing adoption of OLED panels in other "premier" models of consumer electronics products, although no examples were offered.

Today's report follows news on Thursday that instead of competing for OLED display supply against Apple, some China-based smartphone makers are turning towards mini LED this year. Huawei, Oppo, and Xiaomi have reportedly asked Taiwan-based suppliers to begin producing mini LED backlighting in June in anticipation of products that would debut in the second half of 2018.

Related Roundup: iPhone X
Buyer's Guide: iPhone X (Buy Now)

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Facebook is Testing a New City-Specific ‘Today’ Feed for Local News and Events

Facebook is currently testing a new section of its mobile app called "Today in...", which serves up a feed of city-specific events, announcements, and local news, according to TechCrunch.

The company is kicking off the local hub with a small batch of test markets, including New Orleans, Louisiana; Olympia, Washington; Billings, Montana; Binghamton, New York; Peoria, Illinois; and Little Rock, Arkansas. Users in those markets can access the feature via the lower-right menu button, indicated by three horizontal lines in the main Facebook app.


The feed will be populated using a mixture of human-curated and algorithmically-plucked content, and is being spearheaded by Facebook's Journalism Project, designed to support news literacy and to serve as a hub for journalists and publishers to learn and share. It also comes on the back of the company's recently announced Journalism Project Initiative, which aims to build local news partnerships as one of its core goals.

This isn't the first time Facebook has dabbled in promoting local content. Last year the social network giant introduced a separate Explore Feed that is said to use live location information occasionally to suggest posts, articles, photos, and videos from local sources a user hasn't followed, but might be interested in.

In another attempt to establish links within local communities, Facebook recently expanded its e-commerce Marketplace service, which lets users advertize and check out region-based private and business listings for things like vehicles, properties, and household goods.


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Apple’s Tim Cook and More Than 100 CEOs Urge Congress to Protect Dreamers

Apple's Tim Cook on Wednesday joined over 100 other CEOs in urging the U.S. Congress to pass a bill to protect young immigrants before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program expires. For those unfamiliar with the program, DACA gives about 800,000 illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. at age 16 or younger work permits and protection from deportation by two-year deferral. Many of those protected by DACA have been in the United States for most of their lives.

In an open letter to House and Senate leaders, the group called on lawmakers to introduce legislation supporting so-called Dreamers by Friday, which is the deadline for Congress to pass a bill for government funding to avert a shutdown. The DACA program actually expires on March 5, but the CEO signatories say the government needs time to implement a new program before that deadline.
"We write to urge Congress to act immediately and pass a permanent bipartisan legislative solution to enable Dreamers who are currently living, working, and contributing to our communities to continue doing so," the letter reads. "The imminent termination of the DACA program is creating an impending crisis for workforces across the country."
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft president Brad Smith, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam were additional signatories of the letter, which cited a CATO Institute study that found ending the DACA program could cause a $215 billion decline in the gross domestic product.
"In addition to causing a tremendous upheaval in the lives of DACA employees, failure to act in time will lead to businesses losing valuable talent, cause disruptions in the workforce, and will result in significant costs," the group wrote. "While delay or inaction will cause significant negative impact to businesses, hundreds of thousands of deserving young people across the country are counting on you to work in a bipartisan way to pass permanent legislative protection for Dreamers without further delay."
Tim Cook has been consistent in his support for a legislative solution to protect those affected by the end of the DACA program. Following U.S. President Donald Trump's September announcement that DACA would be phased out over six months, Cook sent an email to employees saying Apple would try to help Congress find a solution and would be working with impacted Apple employees to provide support, including access to immigration experts. Apple employs 250 "Dreamers", Cook previously revealed in a tweet.

In December, Cook teamed up with Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch to write an opinion piece in The Washington Post about DACA, asking Congress to work quickly to come up with a solution before the end of the year. That never happened, and the government's stance on the issue now appears to be mired in confusion.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in California issued a nationwide injunction ordering the Trump administration to maintain the DACA program on a nationwide basis while legal challenges to the president's decision go forward.

In another development this week, concerns grew among hardliners after Trump met with lawmakers during a freewheeling televised session, in which he signaled he was open to compromise and seemed to express support for a number of legislative options to legalize Dreamers.

Indeed, the president appeared to suggest that the details of a legislative solution didn't matter to him, telling congressional leaders that he would approve whatever they sent him. "I will be signing it," Trump said towards the end of the meeting. "I'm not going to say, 'Oh, gee, I want this or I want that.' I'll be signing it."

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Wu-Tang Clan Frontman RZA to Lead Music Lab Session at San Francisco Apple Store

Wu-Tang Clan lead member and acclaimed American rapper RZA will host a Music Lab session at Apple's Union Square store in San Francisco later this month. First spotted by AppleInsider, the the free-to-attend session called "Developing Your Sound with RZA" will reveal a number of techniques the hip-hop artist uses to produce his music.


Attendees at the January 22 session will begin by brainstorming and sketching out ideas to create their music story and sound profile. Then they'll get to grips with GarageBand for iPad Pro and ROLI Blocks, which will help them learn how RZA developed his trademark beats, which revolutionized hip-hop in the 1990s.

Sadly, the session at Union Square is all booked up, but anyone interested will have other opportunities to attend the same course with a video introduction by RZA. The sessions will be offered at all Apple stores as part of the company's new "Today at Apple" retail program, which involves locations hosting community-building workshop events. Check the link for details on upcoming events in your area.


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