Tech Thoughts Net News – Friday – September 30, 2016

Stop HTML5 autoplay videos in Chrome, Firefox, Opera;  How to create a secure and hidden folder on your Android phone;  21 essential Windows keyboard shortcuts;  10 Must-Read Tricks for Mastering Your New iPhone;  16 useful Windows 10 tools that help you get more done;  Is my Windows PC 32-bit or 64-bit? Why it matters;  The Best Laptops of 2016;  How Good Can Amazon’s New 8-Inch Tablet Be for Only $90? – and much more news you need to know.

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Stop HTML5 autoplay videos in Chrome, Firefox, Opera (but not Edge, Explorer, Safari) – Websites have shifted from Flash to HTML5 for video, because many browsers now allow native disabling of Flash. Here’s what you now need to know to stop videos from playing as soon as the page loads.

16 useful Windows 10 tools that help you get more done – Microsoft has stuffed Windows 10 full of productivity-enhancing tools and features that streamline common pain points.

Is my Windows PC 32-bit or 64-bit? Why it matters – Especially if you have an older PC, there’s a big difference between 32-bit and 64-bit Windows. Here’s how to find out what you have and why you should care.

How to watch the MLB playoffs and World Series without cable – For cord-cutters, finding live postseason baseball games online can be tougher than hitting a dancing knuckleball. Our guide will make sure you’ll never miss a pitch.


Credit: Thinkstock

21 essential Windows keyboard shortcuts – These Windows keyboard shortcuts help you navigate your PC faster, master documents, wrangle various virtual desktops, and shut down and secure a computer, using just a few keys.

Windows 10 tip: Hide unwanted drivers in Windows Update – Windows 10’s new approach to updates won’t allow you to refuse a security or reliability patch. But you can use a special troubleshooter to say no to a driver delivered through Windows Update. Here’s how.

Google Maps gains new voice commands on Android – In a bid to eliminate distracted driving, Google is adding new voice capabilities to Maps.

Best Bluetooth speakers – We’ll help you find the best wireless speakers for pairing with your smartphone or tablet—whatever your budget, and whatever music floats your boat.

How Good Can Amazon’s New 8-Inch Tablet Be for Only $90? – Want a tablet for watching movies in bed? Amazon’s $89.99 Fire HD 8 offers the best media consumption value you can get right now. The Fire HD 8 is the big sibling to the 7-inch Fire, and it has distinct advantages: better Wi-Fi, louder speakers, a faster processor, and more storage. It’s a basic, affordable tablet with a heavily modified Android operating system devoted to downloading, streaming, reading, and watching Amazon content. Don’t try to push the Fire HD 8 too far beyond media, and you’ll be satisfied. But there’s a definite cost to giving up Google’s native apps and app store, Google Play, and it’s one you should be aware of.

How to create a secure and hidden folder on your Android phone – Want to keep away the prying eyes? Then it’s time to grab some apps that will make pictures, videos, and more disappear from plain sight.

Twitter finally lets everyone create their own “Moments” – Finally, finally, Twitter has rolled out a version of its storytelling feature called Moments that it should have released at launch. Today, the company says that it’s opening up the Moments platform so anyone can create their own stories using tweets and photos uploaded to the service.

The Best Laptops of 2016 – Whether you want an ultraportable, a gaming behemoth, or anything in between, our shopping advice and product recommendations will help you find your ideal laptop.

Skype for iOS updated with Siri support – Now that Apple’s iOS 10 has been out for over a week and is making its way to most users’ iPhones, lots of popular apps are updating to take advantage of the software’s new features. One such release is today’s update for Skype, which allows the app make use of the new Siri API for third-party developers. Now users can ask Siri to place a Skype call to someone without even opening the app.

Luna Launcher turns your Android phone into a kid-friendly device – On the fence about whether your child is old enough for their own smartphone? A new app called Luna Launcher can help you warm to the idea, by offering a simple way to limit access to select apps and actions, including who they can call or text – a list you can restrict to family members, for example. Of course, because of the way it needs to interact with your phone’s operating system in order to restrict access, Luna Launcher is only available on Android.

Raspberry Pi gets its own official desktop environment: PIXEL – The Raspberry Pi, in all its incarnations, has been used in every DIY project or dream imaginable, from security systems to obstruction-detecting robots to, well, mini desktop computers. While most of these projects won’t really use a traditional computer desktop environment, the RPi was still in need of a lightweight, beautiful, and user-friendly desktop for beginners as well as those using the single-board computer as a regular, though less powerful, everyday desktop. Thus, PIXEL was born and is now available for download and use.


A new Microsoft tool shows how Win 10 might affect devices – IT administrators trying to figure out how to move their organizations to Windows 10 have a new tool that might change the game. This week, Microsoft released the Windows Upgrade Analytics Service, designed to make it easier to decide whether you can carry out a massive upgrade. WUAS gives administrators a sense of what drivers and applications are running in their environment, as well as how many devices are running Windows 10. Using Microsoft telemetry data, it decides whether those devices and the software running on them will be compatible with Windows 10 and suggest fixes for compatibility problems.

Periscope revamps website to make live videos easier to find – The site’s new look highlights relevant curated channels and makes it easier to search for video.

10 Must-Read Tricks for Mastering Your New iPhone – 3D Touch, found on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6s, enables lots of helpful shortcuts


FBI director warns that hackers have been ‘poking around’ voter registration systems – The systems underlying our elections process are more important than ever this year, and the bad guys know it too. FBI director James Comey said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing today that “bad actors have been poking around” voter registration systems lately. The FBI issued a similar warning a month ago, saying that one state’s election board was compromised and others had seen multiple attempts. More activity has been observed since then.

Verizon technician sold calling, location data for thousands of dollars – An Alabama man who worked as a Verizon Wireless technician has agreed to plead guilty to a federal hacking charge in connection to his illegal use of the company’s computers to acquire customer calling and location data. The man, Daniel Eugene Traeger, faces a maximum five years in prison next month. He admitted Thursday that he sold customer data—from 2009 to 2014—to a private investigator whom the authorities have not named.

Security: It might not be the outside world that’s the largest threat to businesses – A new report reveals that one in three businesses experienced an insider attack in the past year. More devices with more access are putting sensitive info in the hands of everyone: Spies included.

Record-breaking DDoS reportedly delivered by >145k hacked cameras – Last week, security news site KrebsOnSecurity went dark for more than 24 hours following what was believed to be a record 620 gigabit-per-second denial of service attack brought on by an ensemble of routers, security cameras, or other so-called Internet of Things devices. Now, there’s word of a similar attack on a French Web host that peaked at a staggering 1.1 terabits per second, more than 60 percent bigger. It’s not easy for most people to know if their routers, DVRs, and other Internet-connected devices are infected. Most come with only a minimal control panel, and it’s not possible to use antivirus software to scan them for infections. Depending on the type of attack they’re carrying out, devices may show no sign they’re taking part in a crippling DDoS. The most important things end users can do is to change all default passwords, or better yet, to never connect the devices to the Internet in the first place.

Company News:

HP will stop blocking its printers from using third-party ink – HP is backtracking on a firmware update that recently blocked some printers from using third-party ink cartridges. Some users reported that the update sometimes mistakenly marked legitimate ink as fake, so HP’s CEO Jon Flaxman wrote today that the company will issue a new update to turn off the DRM. HP also clarified that third-party cartridges still work with the original update, so long as they’re built with HP security chips — aka HP is getting a cut of their business. The first mandatory update took effect on September 13th and forced printers to display “damaged cartridge” whenever a bad third-party cartridge was loaded. Following its activation, at least one company vowed to create new chips that could subvert the security check. It looks like that won’t be needed for now.

Google rebrands its business apps as G Suite, upgrades apps & announces Team Drive – Google announced today that its now ten-year old service Google Apps for Work (formerly Google Apps for Your Domain), is getting rebranded yet again. This time around, the company will call it “G Suite.” Sounds more hip, right? Alongside the news, Google also noted a handful of upgrades and improvements in G Suite’s existing product lineup, which includes apps like Drive, Docs, Spreadsheets, Slides, Calendar, Hangouts, and more.

Apple inks partnership with Deloitte to push iOS devices in the enterprise – Apple has a new alliance with consulting giant Deloitte that could push more iPhones and iPads into the workplace. As part of the deal, Deloitte will open up a new in-house business unit comprised of 5,000 “iOS specialists” who will advise clients on how to adopt iPhones and iPads across their business. The unit will have teams in APAC, EMEA, and the Americas. Deloitte and Apple will also work together on a new service called EnterpriseNext. In a nutshell, the service will try to help companies build a mobile strategy around iOS devices as well as create custom-built iOS apps.

Mozilla is stopping all commercial development on Firefox OS – Mozilla ended development of Firefox OS phones in 2015, but there was still hope for the operating system. Mozilla wanted Firefox OS to power smart TVs, tablets, routers, all-in-one PCs, and all kinds of other devices. But that’s no longer in the cards. Mozilla just announced it’s now ending all commercial development of Firefox OS.

IBM, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon form enormous AI partnership – On Wednesday, the world learned of a new industry association called the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, and it includes some of the biggest tech companies in the world. IBM, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon have all signed on as marquis members, though the group hopes to expand even further over time. The goal is to create a body that can provide a platform for discussions among stakeholders and work out best practices for the artificial intelligence industry. Not directly mentioned, but easily seen on the horizon, is its place as the primary force lobbying for smarter legislation on AI and related future-tech issues.

Wells Fargo execs’ bonuses slashed as feds investigate and employees sue – On Tuesday evening, Wells Fargo announced that the bank’s CEO, John Stumpf, would forfeit $41 million in uninvested equity and forego his salary in the wake of a scandal that has hurt the bank’s reputation. The news comes on the heels of a new Labor Department investigation into the bank’s practices, as well as the filing of a proposed $7.2 billion class-action lawsuit by several ex-employees who claim they were forced to “choose between keeping their jobs and opening unauthorized accounts,” according to CNN Money.

Salesforce tries to block Microsoft’s LinkedIn acquisition – Microsoft made a splash earlier this year when it announced the largest acquisition in its history, signing an agreement to buy LinkedIn for $26.2 billion. But now, Salesforce is trying to convince the European Union to block the deal. Salesforce Chief Legal Officer Burke Norton will argue to the EU’s competition authority that Microsoft’s control of LinkedIn’s dataset following an acquisition would be anticompetitive. EU competition chief Margarethe Vestager said in January that her agency would be looking directly at whether a company’s use of data is bad for competition, and these complaints seem aimed squarely at those comments.

Amazon Launches $2.5 Million Alexa Prize Competition – Teams will build bots on Amazon’s Alexa platform that can converse with people about popular topics and news events.

Oracle denied new trial in copyright dispute with Google over Java – A federal court in California has denied Oracle another trial in its long-standing copyright infringement dispute with Google over the use of Java code in Android.

Games and Entertainment:

No Man’s Sky is now under investigation for false advertising – The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority announced it’s investigating the way No Man’s Sky has been advertised on Steam. Regulators from the ASA have examined the game’s Steam page and, based on the information presented there, compiled a list of ways that No Man’s Sky gameplay deviates from what the company’s advertising copy promises.

Civilization 6: The most in-depth Civ to date – This year marks the 25th anniversary of Sid Meier’s Civilization. It’s an important milestone for a series that has shaped the strategy genre in countless ways over the last quarter-century. The release of Civilization VI is the next big step, and after 2014’s good-but-not-outstanding Civilization: Beyond Earth, which felt more like a spinoff than a sequel, expectations are high. The good news is that in the 15 hours and several hundred turns I’ve poured into a pre-release version of the game—which features all of the structural and mechanical features from the retail release, half of the game’s 20 distinct civilisations, a comprehensive list of different map types, three map sizes, and two game speeds—Civ VI is already very good indeed. It might even be the most in-depth Civilization game to date.

Gears of War 4 Prologue previewed in 20-minute gameplay video – We’re less than two weeks out from the launch of Gears of War 4, and if you remain on the fence about whether or not you’ll pick the game up, Microsoft is hoping that new gameplay video might sway you. This isn’t a typical trailer, though, as Microsoft and developer The Coalition actually take us through the game’s prologue missions.


Amazon gives its $40 Fire TV Stick better Wi-Fi and a quad-core processor – It’s a good time to be in the market for a streaming TV box. Roku just updated its lineup earlier this week with the tiny $30 Roku Express and some mainstream boxes that bring 4K video support for less than $100. Google is expected to release a 4K version of its popular Chromecast dongle at its product event next week. And Amazon has just announced a new version of its $40 Fire TV Stick.

Off Topic (Sort of):

50 percent of parents knowingly text their teens while the teens are driving – A new study reveals some stunning statistics about texting behind the wheel and a parent’s role in making it worse.

A Commodore 64 has helped run an auto shop for 25 years – Apple’s Phil Schiller thinks it’s sad that people use 5-year-old computers. Well, Phil, there’s an auto repair shop in Poland that’s going to send you spiraling into a long depression. Why? Because one of the computers they’re using on a day-to-day basis is a Commodore 64, and I don’t mean one of the slick nostalgic remakes. I’m talking about a classically beautiful beige C64 and its whirring, clunking 5.25″ floppy disk drive. It’s been there for more than 25 years. See, not everyone finds the idea of using an old computer sad. Some, like the mechanics at this shop in Gdansk, treat their hardware like a trusted member of their team. Clearly this Commodore 64 has been pulling its weight for the past 25 years, or the shop would’ve found a different system to help them balance driveshafts.


FCC delays vote on controversial set-top box proposal – The Federal Communications Commission made a last-minute announcement this morning that it would delay the vote on a measure that would have effectively killed off the cable box by requiring TV providers to make their shows and movies available through free streaming apps. A revamped proposal was introduced earlier this month, attempting to address some major complaints, by giving cable companies more control over their content and adding more copyright protections for content providers.

Pointing up    A few on that human garbage dump – Donald Trump.

Trump fuels conspiracy that Google is ‘suppressing’ bad Clinton news – Donald Trump is not a stranger to the occasional conspiracy theory, and in a speech on Wednesday, he added a new one to the list: Google is suppressing bad news about Hillary Clinton. “A new post-debate poll that just came out, the Google poll, has us leading Hillary Clinton by two points nationwide, and that’s despite the fact that Google search engine was suppressing the bad news about Hillary Clinton,” Trump said at the speech in Waukesha, Wisconsin. “How about that. How about that.”

Search Interest in Voter Registration by Spanish Speakers Skyrocketed After the Debate – Searches of “registrarse para votar” (Spanish for “register to vote”) rose 2200% in the past week on Google, peaking after Monday’s first presidential debate. Searches in English grew by just 430%. While Google search data isn’t entirely predictive, it can provide useful insight for what voters are asking in their internet browsers. The candidate most searched for by Spanish speakers was Democrat Hillary Clinton, who had 86% of the Google searches containing “votar por” (Spanish for “vote for”) compared to Trump’s 14% of searches.

Trump’s Campaign Is Trying to Cover Up His Lies About Climate Change – In a delicious turn of events at this week’s presidential debate, Donald Trump received his comeuppance over a four-year-old tweet in which he denounced climate change. On stage, his opponent, Hillary Clinton, referenced the tweet from 2012, and remarked that “Donald Trump thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.” His reply? An easily fact-checked lie. “I did not. I do not say that,” he scrambled to say, like a child who’s been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.


Hacker Zine Says It Will Pay $10,000 For Trump’s Tax Returns – A lot of people want to see Donald Trump’s tax returns. Especially in light of links between his campaign and Russian officials, what are his potential conflicts of interest while running for presidency? Now, infamous hacker zine 2600 says it will pay a hefty bounty for the documents. On Twitter, 2600 said, “We are offering $10K for 1st access to [Donald Trump’s] tax return.” The tweet suggests potential submitters can use PGP encryption to send the files and that the source’s identity will be protected.

Canada Is Now Prescribing Heroin to Fight Addiction – Heroin addicts in Canada can now get their fix with a doctor’s prescription. As of September 13, doctors who apply for a permit from Canada’s Special Access Program can prescribe diacetylmorphine, or pharmaceutical grade heroin, to severely addicted patients. Canada has been especially progressive in legislation that oversees addiction, treating it as an illness rather than a moral failure. In 2003, Vancouver became home to the first ever SIF, or supervised injection facility, where heroin users can bring their own stash and shoot up with sterile needles in a clean, safe environment. And the policies could pave the way for global changes. Now, New York’s city council just approved a study of supervised injection facilities in the city, while in Ithaca the mayor also proposed to open a SIF.

Something to think about:

“The Google poll has us leading Hillary Clinton by two points nationwide, and that’s despite the fact that Google’s search engine was suppressing the bad news about Hillary Clinton. How about that?”

–   Donald Trump

“Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.”

–   Frank Leahy

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Human rights orgs take Five Eyes nations to court – Human rights organisations have today made the most direct legal challenge against the UK and USA’s surveillance activities since they were first revealed in 2013.

Despite the outcry against surveillance which followed the outpourings of rogue NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden, and a few successful legal challenges, the utility and lawfulness of bulk interception has been consistently upheld by courts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ten organisations including Privacy International, Liberty, and Amnesty International, have today filed a direct complaint against the UK and USA to the European Court of Human Rights.

The 115-page complaint [PDF] is the first to directly challenge programmes such as GCHQ’s system Tempora, as well the NSA’s Upstream collection programme, on the grounds that they are in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Article 8 provides for a qualified right to privacy, a right that may be abridged if particular conditions are met, including that there are clear legal regimes regulating how governments may engage in surveillance against their populations.

The claimants are concerned that domestic courts and independent oversight mechanisms haven’t been able to tackle the bulk interception of transnational data flows, and the sharing of such data between different government agencies, due to “institutional deficiencies” in some cases and “the geographically bounded jurisdiction of these mechanisms” in others.

Across US, police officers abuse confidential databases – Police officers across the country misuse confidential law enforcement databases to get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons that have nothing to do with daily police work, an Associated Press investigation has found.

Criminal-history and driver databases give officers critical information about people they encounter on the job. But the AP’s review shows how those systems also can be exploited by officers who, motivated by romantic quarrels, personal conflicts or voyeuristic curiosity, sidestep policies and sometimes the law by snooping. In the most egregious cases, officers have used information to stalk or harass, or have tampered with or sold records they obtained.

No single agency tracks how often the abuse happens nationwide, and record-keeping inconsistencies make it impossible to know how many violations occur.

But the AP, through records requests to state agencies and big-city police departments, found law enforcement officers and employees who misused databases were fired, suspended or resigned more than 325 times between 2013 and 2015. They received reprimands, counseling or lesser discipline in more than 250 instances, the review found.

Unspecified discipline was imposed in more than 90 instances reviewed by AP. In many other cases, it wasn’t clear from the records if punishment was given at all. The number of violations was surely far higher since records provided were spotty at best, and many cases go unnoticed.

Among those punished: an Ohio officer who pleaded guilty to stalking an ex-girlfriend and who looked up information on her; a Michigan officer who looked up home addresses of women he found attractive; and two Miami-Dade officers who ran checks on a journalist after he aired unflattering stories about the department.

FBI’s Controversial Surveillance Program Declined After Snowden – The FBI’s use of a controversial program that collected Americans’ phone records decreased significantly after Edward Snowden exposed it to the world in 2013, a new report has found.

The program allows the FBI to get access to phone records—but not the content of phone calls—with permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Between 2012 and 2014, that court approved 561 so-called “business records orders,” but that number dropped from a nine-year high of 212 in 2012 to 170 in 2014, a nearly 20 percent decrease, according to a review by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

The number fell again in 2015 to 142 orders. Snowden’s revelations helped fuel a change in U.S. law that ended the government’s practice of collecting and storing the phone records. Now, the government must request the information from phone companies.

A Justice Department official attributed the diminishing use of the program to the “stigma attached” to it after Snowden’s leaks. But there may be other factors, including the FBI’s increasing use of different tools under surveillance law, notably Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That section was associated with another controversial practice that Snowden exposed: collecting emails and other electronic information from large technology companies, including Facebook, Apple, and Google.

Poll: Should Edward Snowden be pardoned? – As President Obama concludes his term, the idea of pardoning Edward Snowden has percolated through the major media and been chattered about vociferously on social media. A petition on the White House’s We The People page has over 160,000 signatures.

The hacker and former NSA contractor remains controversial, three years after he swiped and released evidence that the US spy agency had been stockpiling massive amounts of data about internet users. Snowden argued that his actions revealed “unconstitutional activity” by the NSA and other government intelligence organizations.

The government, and many private sector cybersecurity firms, see Snowden as a criminal who broke the law and exposed state secrets.

The media is equally divided. Major news organizations, some of which collaborated with or have close ties to Edward Snowden, have been vocal about the idea of a pardon. The New York Times, The Intercept, and The Verge argue in favor of a pardon and compare the Snowden leaks to the release of the Pentagon Papers.

Microsoft sees rise in number of secret data requests – Microsoft has seen a rise in the number of accounts affected by secret government demands, according to its latest transparency report.

But the number of overall number of demands filed by world law enforcement and intelligence agencies declined during the last six-month reporting period.

The latest report from the tech giant, which covers the first half of this year ending June, revealed an 8 percent decrease in requests for customer data from global law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

In total, the company received 35,572 demands for data from law enforcement agencies, affecting 38,366 accounts across the world.


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