Yahoo Mail is still scanning your emails for data to sell to advertisers

Yahoo still scans users’ emails for data to sell to advertisers, a practice that many tech companies have moved away from, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Yahoo’s owner, Oath, is in talks with advertisers to provide a service that would analyze over 200 million Yahoo Mail inboxes for consumer data, sources told WSJ. Oath did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Oath confirmed to the WSJ that it performs email scannings and said that it only scans promotional emails, usually from retailers. Users have the ability to opt out, it said. Oath’s argument is that email is an expensive system, and people can’t expect a free service without some value exchanged.

Even the emails in Yahoo’s premium email service, which costs $3.49 a month, are subject to the analysis, unless users opt out. To opt out, you have to specifically head into the Ad Interest Manager here and select “opt out.” The page is not located in Settings, which makes it hard to find.

Oath uses algorithms to sort Yahoo emails by different consumer preferences and places cookies that will show users similar advertising in the future. For instance, users who often buy plane tickets are labeled frequent flyers by Oath’s algorithms. Those who receive emails inviting them to drive for Lyft are sorted as “self-employed.” Advertisers can then target these groups of users when taking out ads with Oath.

Personal emails are ignored and personally identifiable information is hidden from the data that’s given to advertisers, Oath told the WSJ. The algorithm has made mistakes before, though. Invitations to traditional Indian weddings that can be sent to a large number of recipients and take place over several days, were mistakenly labeled as commercial emails, which Oath then had to correct. Now, wedding invitations are also ignored, Oath told the WSJ.

The process of reviewing these emails requires human readers as well as algorithm sorting. As we reported in April, Oath’s privacy policy allows it to read AOL and Yahoo emails to tailor ads, and that includes human readers, not just machines.

The move looks like Oath is scraping the bottom of the barrel with its mail service as it struggles to combat the more popular Gmail. Anonymous sources told the WSJ that Oath representatives know many people use Yahoo Mail as their spam account that collects unwanted emails from retailers, and that’s precisely what advertisers could capitalize on. Still, in these meetings, advertisers expressed doubt if Yahoo Mail was even big enough to send highly targeted ads. Even if Oath provided data from 200 million accounts, only a few of those users would have bought specific items.

Yahoo has also struggled with a series of data breaches that have marred its reputation. Every single Yahoo account (3 billion users) was hacked in 2013. In 2017, in a survey of 2,500 US adults, Statista found that 44 percent of people used Gmail compared to 29 percent that used Yahoo Mail. While Yahoo Mail remains popular in those aged 65 and older, only 19 percent of those aged 18–29 still use it compared to 61 percent who prefer Gmail.

Image: Statista

While Yahoo’s record on data privacy may be dubious, Google has also had its own issues with Gmail over the past year, despite ending targeted advertisement last year, citing users’ privacy concerns.

In May last year, a sophisticated phishing attack swept through Gmail, disguised as a Google Docs permission request. Then, last July, the WSJ found that Gmail third-party app developers can still read users’ emails if users give consent. Both the phishing attack and the WSJ report highlighted the vulnerabilities in Google’s permissions system.

But the difference is that, unlike Yahoo and its reliance on Yahoo Mail, if users who are looking for more secure and private email services end up leaving Gmail, Google can still count on its search engine and a slew of other products people still use frequently.

Bang & Olufsen adds Google Assistant to its expensive Beosound speakers

Bang & Olufsen is making its Beosound 1 and BeoSound 2 speakers a bit smarter this fall. The company will release new versions featuring Google Assistant in September, which is a nice upgrade for speakers that start at $1,750.

Initially released in 2016, the Beosound 1 and 2 have a distinct tapering, cylindrical design and already support a number of wireless streaming options including Chromecast, AirPlay 2, and Spotify Connect. The Beosound 1 is designed to be portable and features a built-in rechargeable battery, while the Beosound 2 is heftier and needs to be plugged in but produces a lush sound, as my colleague Dan Seifert noted in his review.

At $1,750 and $2,250 for the Beosound 1 and Beosound 2, respectively, these aren’t the cheap smart speaker options many have become accustomed to, but if you’re looking for a high-quality speaker that can also control your smart home, Bang & Olufsen may have what you’re looking for.

The company says the updated speakers will be available in Bang & Olufsen stores in mid-September in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, India, Italy, Japan, and Mexico.

WordPress removes several alt-right blogs that spread Sandy Hook conspiracies

WordPress has taken down several alt-right blogs, citing a new policy that bans blogs from the “malicious publication of unauthorized, identifying images of minors.” The change has led to the shutdown of several blogs that spread conspiracies about the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, as spotted by TechCrunch.

Now alt-right bloggers and readers claim several sites have been removed, including conspiracies about Sandy Hook and 9/11. The timing of the move comes just after The New York Times reported on how WordPress was still allowing these bloggers to stay online.

Previously, that content was left up as it didn’t directly violate WordPress’ Terms of Service, which doesn’t state how to deal with false information on the platform. Even though the content was flagged as false, there had been no consequences, as WordPress’ ToS focuses on copyright issues and account security more than the integrity of content. Essentially, WordPress’ ToS is filled with loopholes for abusers to spread misinformation.

Parents of Sandy Hook victims had little choice but to use the copyright terms to try to sue WordPress into removing the images of their children. WordPress responded with what it later told the Times was a prewritten statement saying it could seek damages against the parents in response to the copyright complaints. At the time, the company maintained its position that the conspiracy posts were allowed.

WordPress’ stance is reminiscent of how other social media platforms are currently under fire for arbitrarily determining what policies to enforce and whether to police horrific misinformation or leave it standing. As these issues gain attention, many platforms are putting new measures in place to remove abusive content, but like WordPress, their initial legal groundwork could use more scrutiny.

Why GPS-dependent apps deplete your smartphone battery

Have you ever turned on location services and noticed your smartphone battery drain in a matter of minutes? People have come up with theories of why that’s happening: maybe you forgot to quit an app that keeps tracking your location, or your phone’s too busy searching for connections to cell towers and satellites. But which is it? Why do smartphone batteries drain so much faster when it’s using GPS?

Here’s what’s really happening when you turn on location services. First, your GPS receiver — a small chip and antennae located inside your smartphone — is always listening to cell towers, which give it a rough estimate of where you are at all times. Without cellular data or Wi-Fi, the GPS receiver guesses your location. “Without Wi-Fi… you just would not be able to download maps to view your position, so you would see a blue dot in the middle of nowhere,” Columbia Engineering associate professor of electrical engineering Harish Krishnaswamy says in an email interview. Think of it as turning on your map when you’re in airplane mode. Maybe your phone can guess what state or city you’re in, but not the exact neighborhood.

Once you activate location services, that’s when your phone starts to listen for satellites — yep, the ones placed into orbit on what’s called a GPS constellation. While the GPS chip in your phone isn’t able to send signals out, it is constantly receiving signals in order to triangulate your exact positioning.

With GPS turned on, your phone can’t enter sleep mode. The GPS chip is constantly listening for satellites, and if you head underground or are in a place that blocks the signal, like under a metal roof or a Costco, the phone will go into random search mode.

“If you go inside a Walmart [which has] metal roofs, the phone will go into high consumption if location services are turned on,” says Robert W. McGwier, research professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech. “It dials through all the different satellites looking for a signal.”

If you’re in a poor signal area and your location services are on, that can drain your smartphone battery far more than if you’re in an area with strong signal. Similarly, you can imagine that if you’re traveling fast through a bullet train or in a car, your signal weakens and battery gets drained faster, partly due to the metal roof and partly due to how many nearby satellites your GPS receiver searches through.

A 2016 study by computer engineering professors in the UK and Saudi Arabia found that under a good signal strength, a battery depletes 13 percent while a weak signal could cause the battery to drop up to 38 percent. (The professors used older devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the Sony Xperia Z2 for their experiments, but it’s safe to say the concept still holds true.)

Is there a way smartphones could protect their GPS chips from overusing the battery? A lot of this has to do with GPS technology being old. The Global Positioning System was fully launched in 1995 by the US military and, despite advancements to technology, it still moves pretty slowly. It takes about 12 to 30 seconds for your phone’s GPS to receive a transmission from a satellite, but if it needs to receive signals from all nearby satellites, it could take up to 12 minutes, according to numbers stated by Google software engineer Robert Love that were independently verified by The Verge.

“The issue is that the rate of data transmission to and from the satellite is very slow compared to fiber optics,” Virginia Tech associate professor of chemistry Louis Madsen says in a phone interview, “They’re as fast as they can be, but still not as fast as anything cable-based.”

While GPS may be to blame for fast battery depletion, it’s more likely that when you’re using a GPS-dependent app, a combination of high-power activities is happening. Typically when you’re getting directions from a map app, your screen is on. That’s why apps like Google Maps or Apple Maps are capable of significantly depleting your battery, since they require the GPS chip, phone display, and cellular data to be on for downloading maps and traffic information. Similarly, if you’re constantly looking at your Uber or Lyft app and watching your driver move along a map to your pickup location, your phone is doing multiple things at once to drain power.

Still, there are plenty of ways to manage your battery and optimize your settings, including killing off background apps and adjusting your screen’s brightness when appropriate. “Both Apple and Android are massively incentivized to get this right,” says McGwier, “Every month, both of them update their software and every single time, a major portion is dedicated to improving the battery management.” At its latest developer conference, for example, Google announced an “Adaptive Battery” mode for Android 9 Pie that automatically shuts down background apps you’re not using to reduce overall CPU usage.

So contrary to common perception, GPS itself is not entirely to blame for battery drainage. And if you’re someone who uses these apps often and likes to have your phone screen brightness turned up high, there are several quick fixes to help your phone last through the day.

Best Buy just spent $800 million on GreatCall, the company that made the JitterBug phone

Best Buy announced late yesterday that it has acquired GreatCall, the company behind the JitterBug phone for seniors, for $800 million. The company currently focuses primarily on its emergency response service that has over 900,000 paying subscribers. The service is accessible through a range of connected devices and wearables, like the Jitterbug, which include a button that’s preprogrammed to dial GreatCall’s emergency assistance hotline.

In its release, Best Buy notes that the acquisition is a “manifestation of the Best Buy 2020 strategy to enrich lives through technology by addressing key human needs.” In plain speak, it seems the deal builds on Best Buy’s continued efforts to sell services as opposed to just gadgets.

Earlier this year, it revamped its tech subscriptions service, turning it into a $200 per year feature called Total Tech Support. That fee offers subscribers 24/7 tech support over the phone or online, for most tech products in the home (even if they weren’t purchased from Best Buy). Subscribers can also go into Best Buy stores to receive help with basic tech support asks, like transferring data between computers or removing a virus.

Clearly, gadget margins are thin, and people are increasingly shopping at Amazon or through manufacturers, like Samsung, directly. The increasing focus on services could keep the once-prolific tech giant afloat.

Don’t be fooled by NYC’s new ‘Apple’ pop-up shop

You’re riding your bike down a busy street, and, suddenly, you see the marquee. “COMING SOON: APPLE POP-UP SHOP, AUGUST 16 – 18” it declares, in a suspiciously Apple-esque san-serif font.

What could it be selling, you wonder? New, limited edition Apple merchandise? An ultra rare, Supreme-style streetwear drop branded with the Cupertino company’s logo? Maybe even that incredible, vintage varsity jacket that Drake wore at WWDC in 2015?

Simmer down. I’m here to tell you that it’s none of those things. The “Apple pop-up shop” is somehow not what it appears to be while being exactly what it says it is: as the Facebook event for the temporary store reveals, the event is a promotion from Stemilt Growers, an actual apple farm that’s showcasing its latest variety of apple. So, essentially, it’s a literal apple store.

As the page advertises in what feels like a tongue-in-cheek version of Apple’s (the company) own product announcements (emphasis ours):

Stop in for a taste of Rave®, a new brand of apple exclusively grown by sixth-generation apple farmers in beautiful Washington State. Outrageously juicy, refreshingly crisp, and so good you’ll want to rave about it, it’s the new apple on the block to watch.

Stemilt is certainly leaning into the coincidence between the name of the famous technology company and the fruit it grows, aping Apple’s own bitten fruit logo with an uneaten version.

If you’re in New York City and you’ve seen these cropping up, maybe don’t start lining up outside the pop-up hoping for some cool swag.. unless you’re really in the mood for a Washington apple. Do these folks not know New York state grows its own apples, too?

Nvidia unveils Turing architecture and GPUs with dedicated ray-tracing hardware

Nvidia has unveiled its new Turing architecture along with details of the first GPUs to use it. Turing includes dedicated “RT Core” hardware designed to drive ray tracing, a complex technique that can deliver extremely realistic lighting effects but has been prohibitively resource-intensive to render in real time. Nvidia calls the new Turing-based Quadro RTX the “world’s first ray-tracing GPU” and claims it’s the biggest leap since the company introduced CUDA in 2006.

The Quadro RTX products are intended for high-end professional use, not gaming — the flagship Quadro RTX 8000 will cost $10,000 when it ships toward the end of the year. For that, you get a GPU with 48GB of new GDDR6 memory, 4,608 CUDA cores, and 576 Tensor cores. Nvidia clocks its ray-tracing capabilities at 10 gigarays a second, with more general performance at 16 teraflops. The GPUs will use Nvidia’s NVLink interface for hooking up multiple cards, and they also support the new VirtualLink standard that can power VR headsets over a single USB-C cable.

Nvidia made today’s announcements at SIGGRAPH, a conference targeting computer graphics professionals. Next week, however, is Gamescom, and Nvidia is widely expected to make announcements about the next generation of its consumer-focused GeForce gaming GPUs. With Turing now unveiled at a technical level, the “spectacular surprises” Nvidia has teased could relate to how its new ray-tracing acceleration hardware will be used in mainstream games.

Square checkout systems can now have custom interfaces

If you’re a regular at a coffee shop or some other small business that uses Square’s checkout system, you’ve seen the same gray-and-white screens — tip, signature, receipt — over and over and over. But today, Square is opening up the ability for developers to create brand-new interfaces for Square’s payment system to be attached to so that businesses don’t all have to use the exact same app.

That means, eventually, your local coffee shop could end up with a colorful interface, new options, and a totally different layout. They can customize the experience so that it makes more sense for their business, potentially streamlining or adding additional options to the checkout process.

The possibilities are actually much broader than that. The toolkit that Square is opening up will allow companies to create completely new experiences hooked up to Square’s payment system. Shake Shack, for example, got early access to this toolkit and used it to build a complete self-service kiosk that allows customers to go through screen by screen to place an order and check out. That was never possible in Square’s app, which requires a cashier to ring in every order.

A cab using a Square card reader with its own interface.
Photo: Infinite Peripherals / Square

Companies could also create new interfaces that are just meant for their own employees. So, for instance, if a restaurant wanted to create a table management system from scratch that relied on Square for payments — instead of, say, using Square’s own table management system — they could do that. Square is also hoping this will allow its payments processing service to end up in far more specialized and niche industries, where its app never would have been able to cut it.

Square says that, for security reasons, businesses will still be required to use some kind of Square hardware for reading credit cards. The software and hardware are also supposed to ensure that only Square ever sees a customer’s credit card data, despite the payment system living inside of a third-party app. But the hardware can be as simple as a Square card reader, with the app running on whichever iOS or Android device a business prefers.

At this point, Square finds itself competing with other payment platforms in a much more direct way since it’s competing to run entire systems, rather than just offer a simple option for businesses to get up and running. Square says it’ll compete on security, integration with features like loyalty programs, and, of course, card fees, which is where Square will continue to make its money. (It won’t cost companies anything extra to build their own system.) Whether or not Square is actually the cheapest option may depend on the type of business, as other payment processors offer different fee structures that may better fit companies selling at certain price points or quantities.

For consumers, though, the big deal is that checkout interfaces could change — for better or worse — thanks to this new toolkit. And after making a purchase through some unfamiliar interface, you could end up with an emailed receipt from Square without even realizing it was a Square system you paid through.

Pirelli made a tire-shaped Bluetooth speaker that isn’t actually made from tires

If you’re a car enthusiast then the words “Pirelli” and “Bluetooth speaker” will definitely perk up your ears. The Italian tire manufacturer is licensing and debuting the Pirelli P Zero Sound, a Bluetooth speaker modeled after a Formula 1 racing wheel and tire, at one half the scale.

Unfortunately, the one feature that would make this specialty speaker complete is if it were an actual rubber racing tire. But alas, the P Zero Sound is a replica mold (that comes in nine colors) of the smaller tire F1 teams use for their aerodynamic wind tunnel testing. The speaker’s manufacturer, iXoost (pronounced like “exhaust”) is based in Modena, Italy, and has a reputation for producing motorsports-themed speaker systems.

Specs-wise, the P Zero Sound measures 12.9-inches in diameter, weighs 21 pounds, has a 100-watt amplifier, Bluetooth 4.0 with AptX for wireless connectivity, a 100mm midwoofer, and a 25mm tweeter.

The P Zero Sound definitely has enough power to keep you entertained in the garage, but also costs more than a real Pirelli tire: 2,400 euros, equivalent to about $2,800.