Tech Thoughts Net News – Wednesday – December 14, 2016

The Best Security Suites of 2016;  Three tips for dealing with an unruly desktop;  How to save and sync your passwords for free;  7 tricks to free up space on your iPhone;  Group chat comes to Snapchat;  Google Drive can now back up iPhones;  Facebook launches parents portal;  4 Windows Command Prompt tricks everyone should know;  10 Quick Tips to Fix Your Bad Photos;  Patch Tuesday is here and it’s a big one;  Netgear starts patching routers;  10 most innovative games of 2016;  The Xbox One is back on sale for $250;  The 10 Most Pirated Movies – and much more news you need to know.

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The Best Security Suites of 2016 – Using your computer for games and social media is fun; keeping it safe isn’t. A security suite can be your one-stop solution. We’ve tested almost four dozen of them, and these 10 get our highest recommendation.

How to save and sync your passwords for free – Although most of the major password managers offer a free option, you don’t get what is arguably the most important option — password syncing — unless you pony up for a premium subscription. And that can run as much as $40 annually. Not anymore. Lastpass, already a popular option thanks to its affordable $1/month Premium plan, now offers syncing as part of its free service. That means you can access your passwords on mobile, desktop and Web without spending a dime.

Three tips for dealing with an unruly desktop – We’ve talked before about how to keep the desktop clean. But for desktop addicts it’s not so simple, is it? The desktop is a convenient place to quickly store files that you download or want to have readily available. At least at first. Over time, the files build up and before you know it the desktop is a mess again, the exact opposite of efficient. Here are three tools for dealing with the chaos.

7 tricks to free up space on your iPhone – We could all use a little extra storage on our iOS devices, right? Here are a few easy ways to quickly reclaim some of your iPhone’s or iPad’s storage space — and some tricks for making sure it stays clear.

Microsoft Translator now translates your in-person conversations – Microsoft Translator is taking another step toward eliminating the language barrier separating many people, making it possible to see real-time translations during your conversation with someone speaking a different language. It’s an essential business tool and a great way to expand your horizons while traveling, and it only requires each person to have a phone and the Microsoft Translator app.

Microsoft sets the stage for Cortana-powered smart devices – Microsoft’s making several under-the-hood improvements to Cortana, not the least of which will be an SDK for (finally!) consumer devices powered by the technology.

Group chat comes to Snapchat just in time for the holidays – Snapchat today announced a Group feature for you to start chats with up to 16 friends. You can see who’s present in a group chat at the bottom of the screen, and are given the option to start a private chat by selecting individual friends’ names. Just like all things on Snapchat, chats or snaps sent to a group are deleted after 24 hours and can only be replayed once. If you don’t open them in time, they’re also gone.

Slack swipes at Skype with video calls and reaction emoji – Slack, the workplace collaboration platform with 1.25 million paying users and 4 million overall, is adding one more key feature to its artillery of tools for people to communicate with each other, and it’s one that could help it pick up even more users away from other services like Skype and Gmail: it’s adding video calling, the audiovisual complement to the audio chat services that it released earlier this year. Group video calls, for those on paid tiers, can handle up to 15 people currently, Slack says. Slack says the video calling feature will be available first on Slack for Mac and Windows on desktop and Google Chrome in the next few days. Those on mobile will be able to join video calls but will experience them as audio only.

Facebook launches parents portal to help folks navigate their kids’ social experience – Facebook, the social networking app used by 1.8 billion people globally, does not provide figures for how much of that audience is comprised of minors — that is, people under the age of 18 (and theoretically over the age of 13). But chances are that these days it’s a significant number, when you consider some news out from the company today: Facebook is launching a new parent portal, aimed at helping adults navigate their minor charges through Facebook’s social media landscape.

Google Drive can now back up iPhones to make Android switching easier – Google has updated its website that guides iPhone owners through the process of making the change to Android. But more importantly, the company is also adding a new feature to its Google Drive app on iOS: the ability to instantly back up your contacts, calendar, and camera roll and store it in the cloud. That way, whenever you buy a Pixel or some other Android phone, all your stuff will be waiting in Google’s various apps. It’s all automatic when done this way, as opposed to before when you’d have to upload this stuff from several different apps. The new option is found in the settings menu under “backup.”

Google finally releases Gboard for Android, bringing search to the keyboard – Previously iOS-only, the update to Google Keyboard lets you find and send links, pics, and GIFs.

Google’s taking Brillo into smart homes with Android Things – Android is headed to the internet of things in the form of Android Things, an operating system that grew out of Project Brillo and will be able to get updates directly from Google.

4 Windows Command Prompt tricks everyone should know – Though many of its duties have been replaced by icons or tiles, there are still things a DOS command does better or faster, as any IT professional already knows. Most users don’t need to go into the deep weeds with command prompts (check out Microsoft’s A-Z reference if you do), but there are a few tasks and tricks that are handy for everyone to know.

9 travel hacks you’ll wish you knew all along – As always, knowledge is power. The more you plan, research and prepare, the better off you’ll be. With that in mind, I’ve rounded up these nine tricks to make your travels faster, easier and hopefully cheaper. Read on, and have a nice trip!

10 Quick Tips to Fix Your Bad Photos – You don’t have to be a professional to take top-notch photos. Follow these simple pointers to improve the quality of your snapshots.

Skype, WhatsApp face increased privacy regulation in Europe – The European Commission wants to update its aging privacy rules for electronic communications services, bringing messaging apps under its umbrella for the first time.

11 Stocking Stuffers for Your Smartphone Under $25 – We hunted down 10 great gifts for Android, iOS, and Windows 10 Mobile users who are looking to raise their smartphone game this holiday. Click through for some ideas sure to please everyone on your list.

Tech gifts for non-techies – It may come as a bit of a surprise to some, but not everyone out there is as in love with technology as we are? But that doesn’t mean that they won’t find tech gifts useful. And who knows, next year they too many be a tech-head!


Patch Tuesday is here and it’s a big one – The final scheduled patch dump of the year sees Microsoft deliver fixes for multiple products, while Apple has security updates for iOS, macOS, Safari, and iTunes, and Adobe patches nine products including Flash Player and InDesign.

Netgear starts patching routers affected by a critical flaw – Networking device manufacturer Netgear released firmware updates for several router models to patch a critical vulnerability that’s publicly known and could be exploited by hackers. The vulnerability was disclosed by a researcher Friday and affects multiple Netgear router models, many from the company’s Nighthawk series. The company initially confirmed the flaw in three models — R6400, R7000, R8000 — but it has since expanded the list to include five more. The models confirmed to be affected so far are: R6250, R6400, R6700, R7000, R7100LG, R7300, R7900 and R8000. This list might not be complete as Netgear continues to analyze the flaw’s impact to its entire router portfolio.

Security flaw in McAfee enterprise software gives attackers root access – The security company took six months to patch the set of security vulnerabilities.

Covert downloaders found preinstalled on dozens of low-cost Android phone models – Dozens of low-cost Android phone models come preinstalled with apps that covertly download and install adware and other unwanted programs, researchers said. One such app, known as H5GameCenter, displays ads on top of running applications. The image can’t be removed, and infected users report that when they uninstall the app, Android.DownLoader.473.origin quickly downloads and installs it again. The list of affected models included:

Watch out: These are biggest ransomware threats and they’ve grown even larger – Attacks using the two of the most prolific forms of ransomware spiked in November as one continues to be amongst the top global threats.

Company News:

Apple ordered to cough up $2m to store workers after denying rest breaks – A California court has ruled in favor of Apple Store workers who accused the iPhone giant of trampling over their employment rights. It is a bittersweet victory. The trial jury yesterday awarded store staff $2m after Apple was found to have illegally denied them meal and rest breaks, and was late giving departing workers their final paychecks. The class-action complaint was first filed in 2011 in the California State Court in San Diego by four former employees. It was later expanded to a class of more than 21,000 current and former workers who held jobs at the Apple Store as far back as 2007. Apple had been accused of a half-dozen violations of state labor laws, including California laws forbidding the failure to provide meal and rest breaks, full pay upon termination, and unfair business practices.

Google’s self-driving car unit becomes Waymo – Google is setting up its self-driving car unit as its own separate entity called Waymo under the Alphabet umbrella, the company announced today. The name is derived from its mission of finding “a new way forward in mobility.”

Qualcomm, Google to team up on Android Things, eye Internet of things apps – Next year Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors will have hooks into Google’s Android Things OS, which is now in a developer preview. Will the IoT OS race matter though?

Google snaps up smartwatch OS startup Cronologics to boost Android Wear – Google has acquired the team behind Cronologics, a company focused on the development of operating systems suitable for wearable devices. Started in 2014 by former Google business employees, the company hoped to one day create the go-to platform for smartwatches. With the introduction of Android Wear and Apple watchOS, this dream did not come to fruition, but there is still a future for the startup’s team. In a statement on the Cronologics website, the team said they are joining Google to “help grow the portfolio of watches powered by Android Wear.”

Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe Steps Down – The Facebook-owned company is establishing new PC and mobile VR groups, and Iribe will be leading the PC VR team.

Games and Entertainment:

10 most innovative games of 2016 – It’s that time of year again — for several years in a row, I’ve picked the most innovative games of the year on any platform. This year was much, much easier than past years, mostly thanks to a wide selection of games and the debut of virtual reality headsets. Even the major releases from studios like Electronic Arts had brilliant innovations we’ve never seen before.

Star Wars: Battlefront goes free on Xbox One for EA Access members – Rogue One hits theaters this week, and so the currently most popular Star Wars game, Battlefront, is getting all the perks ahead of time. Game owners just got access to the Rogue One DLC on December 6th, and now some Xbox One owners are getting another special perk: free access to the game, assuming they have an EA Access subscription. The subscription, of course, provides access to the EA Access game vault.

The Xbox One is back on sale for $250 for last-minute holiday shopping – Microsoft is putting all of its Xbox One S bundles back on sale for $50 off for the holiday season. So, if you missed out on the many Black Friday deals, now’s a good time to get in on Microsoft’s latest console. The discount runs from December 11th until December 24th and is available at all the usual Xbox One retailers, including Amazon, Target, GameStop, Best Buy, Walmart, and the Microsoft Store. The news comes on the heels on Sony announcing a similar discount for the PlayStation 4, so no matter what your console of choice, you can get a decent deal between now and Christmas.

The 10 Most Pirated Movies – The Magnificent Seven ride back into town to take on the incumbents like Sully, Snowden, and Strange.

Here are all the countries where Pokemon Go is available – Can you get Pokemon Go yet? Check this list to find out.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Video: The top 5 things to know about the blockchain – The blockchain is best known as the system that validates Bitcoin transactions, but it has other potential uses. Here’s what’s essential to know about it.

Scientists: help archive climate data before Trump presidency – Fear is increasingly gripping the scientific community as it prepares for a hostile presidency under Donald Trump, someone who has loudly proclaimed skepticism about global warming. The president-elect has been assembling a team composed of vocal climate change deniers, among others, as well as individuals with business interests at odds with climate change efforts. Researchers worry the administration will unravel decades’ worth of research efforts, but they’re taking steps to minimize any potential data loss. The University of Toronto, for example, recently announced a ‘guerrilla archiving event’ that has the goal of ‘saving environmental data from Trump.’ The event, which is scheduled to take place on December 17, aims to ‘archive federal online pages and data that are in danger of disappearing during the Trump administration.’

Tech workers vow not to build database to track Muslims – More than 200 engineers, designers and executives pledge not to build a database for the Trump administration to track Muslims in the US.

Music industry asks Trump to crack down on illegal file-sharing and downloading sites – A group of music industry organizations sent President-elect Donald Trump a letter today, urging him to focus on intellectual property protections during his presidency, Variety reports. The letter, signed by companies like ASCAP, BMI, and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), asks Trump to consider the issue of music piracy ahead of his Silicon Valley “tech summit” tomorrow. The letter claims that some search engines and file-sharing sites are guilty of “perversely abusing US law to underpay music creators,” by taking advantage of loopholes that allow people to download or host music illegally.

Net Neutrality – Why it should matter to you – Before this year’s presidential elections became the major factor dividing the US tech industry, it was “net neutrality” that split camps along lines of for or against. And if you thought the (legal) battle is over, you are definitely wrong. Although the FCC already ruled in favor of net neutrality last year, the changing of the guards opens up the real possibility, nay an explicit objective even, of undoing all that. The net neutrality debates are about to be reignited and, whichever side of the camp you stand on, the results will inevitably affect everyone.

There Are Twice as Many Species of Birds as We Thought, Study Finds– Bird-watchers of the world: your list may have just doubled. A recent study published in the journal PLOS One suggests that the way bird species are defined has traditionally been too narrow, and there are actually more than 18,000 bird species in the world—double previous estimates. Aside from making it trickier for bird fans to tick off all the species on their list, how we classify bird species has serious implications for conservation. If a bird is thought to be a subspecies of a healthy population, but is really a tiny population of its own species, it could be at risk of extinction without anyone realizing. That’s what happened recently with the red-bellied pitta, which was believed to be a single species but turned out to be 13 different species of bird, some of which were threatened, while others were of least concern.

Something to think about:

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

–       Bertrand Russell    (1872 – 1970)

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Google publishes eight secret data requests from the FBI – In a post today, Google published a series of eight National Security Letters, in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation secretly requested subscriber information on specific accounts. The letters range from 2010 to 2015, but follow a nearly identical format, identifying a number of accounts and sometimes a specific time frame but providing no evidence or suspicion to justify the request.

Google was legally prohibited from disclosing the requests when they were first issued, but that prohibition has since been lifted. The letter lifting each so-called “gag order” is also included in the post. Google first acknowledged the declassification in a transparency report earlier this year, updating the range of “NSLs received” from 0-499 to 1-499.

In most cases, the FBI’s request is limited to the name, address and length of service for the given account, although two of the letters also ask for “electronic communications transactional records” associated with the account. That category of records, which was the subject of some debate in 2010, can include the IP addresses from which the service was accessed, although it does not include the content of emails. All eight of the orders were justified under Executive Order 12333, a controversial Reagan-era decree that is used to authorize a significant amount of domestic web surveillance.

Today’s post from Google is part of a wave of recently declassified data requests, In keeping the USA Freedom Act’s new classification guidelines, the Department of Justice has undertaken a broad review of the classification status of existing National Security Letters, which has resulted in a number of newly public data requests. In Google’s case, each of the published letters was declassified in the last six months.

Snowden: Donald Trump could get pal Putin to kick me out of Russia – NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has warned Donald Trump, as US President, could do a deal with Russian leader Vladimir Putin to extradite or imprison the whistleblower.

In an hour-long live-streamed video interview on Periscope with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey today, Snowden argued the US had trapped him in Russia when it cancelled his passport. The ex-NSA IT nerd added the incoming White House administration – which seemingly has better relations with the Russian government than the Obama regime – may be able to get him kicked out of the country and delivered into the hands of Uncle Sam, or otherwise imprisoned.

“It could happen, sure, but am I worried? Not really – I am very comfortable with decisions I made and know I did the right thing,” he said.

“If my personal security was the only thing I cared about I never would have come forward and revealed myself in public. I would have stayed at NSA making an incredible amount of money for very little work and [would] be spying on you.”

Up until now the US had worked hard to keep him in Russia – even going so far as to force down the President of Bolivia’s private jet to make sure Snowden wasn’t trying to flee. Snowden said he may also have to leave the Putin-led nation because he criticizes the Russian administration. There is no suggestion at this stage that Russia will eject or punish the American fugitive.

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