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Starlink Will Hit 300Mbps and Expand To 'Most of Earth' This Year
Starlink broadband speeds will double to 300Mbps "later this year," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter this week. SpaceX has been telling users to expect speeds of 50Mbps to 150Mbps since the beta began a few months ago. From a report: Musk also wrote that "latency will drop to ~20ms later this year." This is no surprise, as SpaceX promised latency of 20ms to 40ms during the beta and had said months ago that "we expect to achieve 16ms to 19ms by summer 2021." It sounds like the speed and latency improvements will roll out around the same time as when Starlink switches from beta to more widespread availability. Two weeks ago, Starlink opened preorders for service expected to be available in the second half of 2021, albeit with limited availability in each region. Reader xonen writes: Starlink has become available in my country, The Netherlands. I verified pricing -- it's the same prices in Euros as in the USA in dollars, which was to be expected due to sales taxes being about equal the difference in value between dollars and euro's, so 99 euro monthly, and 499 up front for the hardware. From the email: Starlink is now available for order to a limited number of users in your coverage area. Placing your order now will hold your place in line for future service. Orders will be fulfilled on a first-come, first-served basis. During beta, users can expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all. As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations and improve our networking software, data speed, latency and uptime will improve dramatically. The Starlink team will provide periodic updates on availability as we launch more satellites and expand our coverage area. Depending on your location, some orders may take 6 months or more to fulfill. To check availability for your location, visit Starlink.com and re-enter your service address. Thank you for your interest in Starlink and your continued support!

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

;
Fry's Electronics Going Out of Business, Shutting Down All Stores
UnknowingFool and scores of other readers have shared this report: Fry's Electronics, the decades-old superstore chain with locations in nine American states, appears to have gone defunct. Bay Area TV station KRON-4 was the first press outlet to confirm the news late Tuesday, saying that Fry's will shut down all 30 of its American locations. The retailer will reportedly make an announcement at some time on Wednesday via the Fry's website. Rumors began flying on Tuesday in the form of anecdotes from alleged Fry's employees, who all reported that they'd been summarily fired earlier in the day with zero notice. One anonymous report posted at The Layoff alleged that every remaining Fry's store in the US was "permanently closing tomorrow," and that statement was repeated hours later at a Fry's-related Reddit community. The Reddit post included the allegation that one store's staffers were tasked with shipping any remaining merchandise back to suppliers during their final day at work. Sacramento freelance journalist Matthew Keys followed these posts by citing an unnamed source -- someone who had worked at Fry's up until "this week" -- who claimed that the electronics chain would make a formal announcement "this week" about closing all of its stores and liquidating any remaining assets. As the wave of rumors exploded, the official Fry's website began serving failure notices -- yet some of its subsite content, particularly years-old press releases, remained active through Frys.com subdomains. As Tuesday wore on, the Fry's retail site flickered in and out of normal service, even letting customers buy products after KRON-4's report went live.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

;
HP is Buying Gaming Accessory Brand HyperX for $425 Million
HP has announced that it is acquiring gaming peripheral company HyperX for $425 million. The purchase will give HP a major foothold in the gaming accessory market. From a report: This transaction will result in HP buying the HyperX brand from Kingston, the current owner, but HP notes in the announcement post that "Kingston will retain the DRAM, flash, and SSD products for gamers and enthusiasts." HP has been making strides to enter the gaming peripheral space for the last several years but has not gained much traction compared to other brands such as Corsair and Logitech. HyperX is one of the most notable brands in this space, with gaming accessories ranging from PC gaming peripherals to gaming microphones.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

;
A Digital Firewall in Myanmar, Built With Guns and Wire Cutters
The Myanmar soldiers descended before dawn on Feb. 1, bearing rifles and wire cutters. At gunpoint, they ordered technicians at telecom operators to switch off the internet. For good measure, the soldiers snipped wires without knowing what they were severing, according to an eyewitness and a person briefed on the events. The New York Times: The data center raids in Yangon and other cities in Myanmar were part of a coordinated strike in which the military seized power, locked up the country's elected leaders and took most of its internet users offline. Since the coup, the military has repeatedly shut off the internet and cut access to major social media sites, isolating a country that had only in the past few years linked to the outside world. The military regime has also floated legislation that could criminalize the mildest opinions expressed online. So far, the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, has depended on cruder forms of control to restrict the flow of information. But the army seems serious about setting up a digital fence to more aggressively filter what people see and do online. Developing such a system could take years and would likely require outside help from Beijing or Moscow, according to experts. Such a comprehensive firewall may also exact a heavy price: The internet outages since the coup have paralyzed a struggling economy. Longer disruptions will damage local business interests and foreign investor confidence as well as the military's own vast business interests. [...] If Myanmar's digital controls become permanent, they would add to the global walls that are increasingly dividing what was supposed to be an open, borderless internet. The blocks would also offer fresh evidence that more countries are looking to China's authoritarian model to tame the internet. Two weeks after the coup, Cambodia, which is under China's economic sway, also unveiled its own sweeping internet controls. Even policymakers in the United States and Europe are setting their own rules, although these are far less severe. Technologists worry such moves could ultimately break apart the internet, effectively undermining the online networks that link the world together.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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A New Browser Extension Blocks Any Websites that Use Google, Facebook, Microsoft, or Amazon
The Economic Security Project is trying to make a point about big tech monopolies by releasing a browser plugin that will block any sites that reach out to IP addresses owned by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, or Amazon. From a report: The extension is called Big Tech Detective, and after using the internet with it for a day (or, more accurately, trying and failing to use), I'd say it drives home the point that it's almost impossible to avoid these companies on the modern web, even if you try. Currently, the app has to be side-loaded onto Chrome, and the Economic Security Project expects that will remain the case. It's also available to side-load onto Firefox. By default, it just keeps track of how many requests are sent, and to which companies. If you configure the extension to actually block websites, you'll see a big red popup if the website you're visiting sends a request to any of the four. That popup will also include a list of all the requests so you can get an idea of what's being asked for.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Huawei Turns To Pig Farming as Smartphone Sales Fall
Huawei is turning to technology for pig farmers as it deals with tough sanctions on its smartphones. From a report: The Chinese telecoms giant was stopped from accessing vital components after the Trump administration labelled it a threat to US national security. In response to struggling smartphone sales, Huawei is looking at other sources of revenue for its technology. Along with Artificial Intelligence (AI) tech for pig farmers, Huawei is also working with the coal mining industry. Former US President Donald Trump claimed Huawei can share customer data with the Chinese government, allegations it has repeatedly denied. As a result, the world's largest telecoms equipment maker has been limited to making 4G models as it lacks US government permission to import components for 5G models. Huawei's smartphone sales plunged 42% in the last quarter of 2020 as it struggled with a limited supply of microchips due to the sanctions. Huawei has also been locked out of the development of 5G in a number of countries, including the UK, amid fears over national security. [...] China has the world's biggest pig farming industry and is home to half the world's live hogs. Technology is helping to modernise pig farms with AI being introduced to detect diseases and track pigs. Facial recognition technology can identify individual pigs, while other technology monitors their weight, diet and exercise. Huawei has already been developing facial recognition tech and faced criticism last month for a system that identifies people who appear to be of Uighur origin among images of pedestrians. Other Chinese tech giants, including JD.com and Alibaba, are already working with pig farmers in China to bring new technologies.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Apple M1 Mac Users Report Excessive SSD Wear
Over the past week, some M1 Mac users have been reporting alarming SSD health readings, suggesting that these devices are writing extraordinary amounts of data to their drives. From a report: Across Twitter and the MacRumors forums, users are reporting that M1 Macs are experiencing extremely high drive writes over a short space of time. In what appear to be the most severe cases, M1 Macs are said to be consuming as much as 10 to 13 percent of the maximum warrantable total bytes written (TBW) value of its SSD. Flash memory on solid-state drives, such as those used in Macs, can only be written to a certain number of times before they become unstable. Software ensures that load is spread evenly across the drive's memory cells, but there is a point when the drive has been written to so many times that it can no longer reliably hold data. So while SSD wear is normal, expected behavior, drives should not be exhausting their ability to hold data as quickly as some M1 Macs seem to be. One user showed that their M1 Mac had already consumed one percent of its SSD after just two months, while another M1 Mac with a 2TB SSD had already consumed three percent. The total data units written for these machines is running into many terabytes, when they would normally be expected to be considerably lower.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Flash Version Distributed in China After EOL is Installing Adware
Although the Flash Player app formally reached its end of life on December 31, 2020, Adobe has allowed a local Chinese company to continue distributing Flash inside China, where the application still remains a large part of the local IT ecosystem and is broadly used across both the public and private sectors. From a report: Currently, this Chinese version of the old Flash Player app is available only via flash.cn, a website managed by a company named Zhong Cheng Network, the only entity authorized by Adobe to distribute Flash inside China. But in a report published earlier this month, security firm Minerva Labs said its security products picked up multiple security alerts linked to this Chinese Flash Player version. During subsequent analysis, researchers found that the app was indeed installing a valid version of Flash but also downloading and running additional payloads. More precisely, the app was downloading and running nt.dll, a file that was loaded inside the FlashHelperService.exe process and which proceed to open a new browser window at regular intervals, showing various ad- and popup-heavy sites.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Software Bug Keeping Hundreds Of Inmates In Arizona Prisons Beyond Release Dates
According to Arizona Department of Corrections whistleblowers, hundreds of incarcerated people who should be eligible for release are being held in prison because the inmate management software cannot interpret current sentencing laws. From a report: KJZZ is not naming the whistleblowers because they fear retaliation. The employees said they have been raising the issue internally for more than a year, but prison administrators have not acted to fix the software bug. The sources said Chief Information Officer Holly Greene and Deputy Director Joe Profiri have been aware of the problem since 2019. The Arizona Department of Corrections confirmed there is a problem with the software. As of 2019, the department had spent more than $24 million contracting with IT company Business & Decision, North America to build and maintain the software program, known as ACIS, that is used to manage the inmate population in state prisons. One of the software modules within ACIS, designed to calculate release dates for inmates, is presently unable to account for an amendment to state law that was passed in 2019.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Square Buys $170 Million Worth of Bitcoins
Square said today it has purchased approximately 3,318 bitcoins at an aggregate purchase price of $170 million. From a statement: Combined with Square's previous purchase of $50 million in bitcoin, this represents approximately five percent of Square's total cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities as of December 31, 2020.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Apple Has Bought Over 100 Companies Over the Past Six Years, Tim Cook Tells Investors
Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook fielded questions on mergers and acquisitions, the impact of Covid-19, and the company's supply chain during a virtual shareholder meeting on Tuesday. From a report: Narrating a slide show, Cook summarized many of the company's new products and initiatives announced over the past year. He spoke about the latest iPhones and the growing potential of the Apple Watch, while noting that the AirPods Max headphones have quickly become "hugely popular" with users. He also discussed Apple's efforts to combat the pandemic, climate change, and the San Francisco Bay Area housing crisis. During a question and answer session, Cook said Apple is on track to meet its environment goals, including becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and transitioning its products to using recycled materials. He also reiterated Apple's recent privacy changes, including an imminent plan to limit ad targeting on its devices. Cook said the company bought almost 100 smaller companies over the past six years and makes a deal about every three to four weeks. Asked about gender pay equity, the CEO said Apple pays men and women equally across the world and has stopped asking applicants about their salary history to help ensure equity.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Vaccines Adapted for Variants Will Not Need Lengthy Testing, FDA Says
The Food and Drug Administration said this week that vaccine developers would not need to conduct lengthy randomized controlled trials for vaccines that have been adapted to protect against concerning coronavirus variants. From a report: The recommendations, which call for small trials more like those required for annual flu vaccines, would greatly accelerate the review process at a time when scientists are increasingly anxious about how the variants might slow or reverse progress made against the virus. The guidance was part of a slate of new documents the agency released on Monday, including others addressing how antibody treatments and diagnostic tests might need to be retooled to respond to the virus variants. Together, they amounted to the federal government's most detailed acknowledgment of the threat the variants pose to existing vaccines, treatments and tests for the coronavirus, and came weeks after the F.D.A.'s acting commissioner, Dr. Janet Woodcock, said the agency was developing a plan. "The emergence of the virus variants raises new concerns about the performance of these products," Dr. Woodcock said in a statement Monday. "We want the American public to know that we are using every tool in our toolbox to fight this pandemic, including pivoting as the virus adapts." Most of the vaccine manufacturers with authorized vaccines or candidates in late-stage trials have already announced plans to adjust their products to address the vaccine variants. The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines use mRNA technology that the companies have said can be used to alter the existing vaccines within six weeks, although testing and manufacturing would take longer. Moderna has already begun developing a new version of its vaccine that could be used as a booster shot against a virus variant that originated in South Africa, known as B.1.351, which seems to dampen the effectiveness of the existing vaccines. A fast-spreading coronavirus variant first observed in Britain has also gained a worrisome mutation that could make it harder to control with vaccines. That variant with the mutation was found in the United States last week.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Google's Password Checkup Feature Coming To Android
Android users can now take advantage of the Password Checkup feature that Google first introduced in its Chrome web browser in late 2019, the OS maker announced today. From a report: On Android, the Password Checkup feature is now part of the "Autofill with Google" mechanism, which the OS uses to select text from a cache and fill in forms. The idea is that the Password Checkup feature will take passwords stored in the Android OS password manager and check them against a database containing billions of records from public data breaches and see if the password has been previously leaked online. If it has, a warning is shown to the user.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Samsung Now Updates Android For Longer than Google Does
Samsung is upping the ante on Android updates and offering four years of security updates on many of its Android devices. The company's full update package is now three years of major OS updates and four years of security updates, besting even what Google offers on the Pixel line. From a report: In the announcement, Samsung says, "Over the past decade, Samsung has made significant progress in streamlining and speeding up its regular security updates. Samsung worked closely with its OS and chipset partners, as well as over 200 carriers around the world, to ensure that billions of Galaxy devices receive timely security patches." Samsung has experimented with bringing four years of updates to its own Exynos SoC devices, but now it looks like the company is getting Qualcomm models on board as well. Keep in mind that these are not necessarily monthly security updates. Samsung says it's delivering four years of "monthly or quarterly" updates, depending on the age of the device. Samsung's current security bulletin page has the Galaxy S9 (2018) on the monthly update plan, while the Galaxy S8 is on the quarterly plan. So it sounds like three years of monthly security updates and one more year of quarterly updates.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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PlayStation CEO Says PS5 Will Get Its Own VR Headset
The PlayStation 5 will have its own virtual reality headset, however, consumers may face ongoing difficulties obtaining a PS5 console given a supply chain shortfall. From a report: Ryan revealed both developments in a Monday interview with The Washington Post. Ryan said developments kits for the PS5-specific VR headset will be sent out soon, though the company isn't ready to talk about the device's horsepower or specs. He did say the next headset will be considerably less cumbersome, as opposed to the current PSVR setup that requires wires running through a PlayStation 4, the TV and a separate black box called the PSVR processor. "Generational leaps allows you to sweep up the advances in technology that have taken place," Ryan said. "Given this was our first foray into virtual reality, it gives us a chance to apply lessons learned. One of the very vivid illustrations of that is that we will be moving to a very easy single-cord setup." The next version of PlayStation VR will also borrow from its groundbreaking DualSense controllers, which debuted with the PS5 and provide super specific haptic feedback from the game to the palms of a player's hands. "One of the innovations we're excited about is our new VR controller, which will incorporate some of the key features found in the DualSense wireless controller, along with a focus on great ergonomics," Senior Vice President, Platform Planning & Management Hideaki Nishino wrote in a post on PlayStation's website Tuesday. There's no set launch date for the new VR device, according to Ryan. In an October 2020 interview with The Post, Ryan said while Sony was still very much interested in VR, any more news about the company's VR investments may not come in 2021.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Starlink Will Hit 300Mbps and Expand To 'Most of Earth' This Year
Starlink broadband speeds will double to 300Mbps "later this year," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter this week. SpaceX has been telling users to expect speeds of 50Mbps to 150Mbps since the beta began a few months ago. From a report: Musk also wrote that "latency will drop to ~20ms later this year." This is no surprise, as SpaceX promised latency of 20ms to 40ms during the beta and had said months ago that "we expect to achieve 16ms to 19ms by summer 2021." It sounds like the speed and latency improvements will roll out around the same time as when Starlink switches from beta to more widespread availability. Two weeks ago, Starlink opened preorders for service expected to be available in the second half of 2021, albeit with limited availability in each region. Reader xonen writes: Starlink has become available in my country, The Netherlands. I verified pricing -- it's the same prices in Euros as in the USA in dollars, which was to be expected due to sales taxes being about equal the difference in value between dollars and euro's, so 99 euro monthly, and 499 up front for the hardware. From the email: Starlink is now available for order to a limited number of users in your coverage area. Placing your order now will hold your place in line for future service. Orders will be fulfilled on a first-come, first-served basis. During beta, users can expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all. As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations and improve our networking software, data speed, latency and uptime will improve dramatically. The Starlink team will provide periodic updates on availability as we launch more satellites and expand our coverage area. Depending on your location, some orders may take 6 months or more to fulfill. To check availability for your location, visit Starlink.com and re-enter your service address. Thank you for your interest in Starlink and your continued support!

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

;
Fry's Electronics Going Out of Business, Shutting Down All Stores
UnknowingFool and scores of other readers have shared this report: Fry's Electronics, the decades-old superstore chain with locations in nine American states, appears to have gone defunct. Bay Area TV station KRON-4 was the first press outlet to confirm the news late Tuesday, saying that Fry's will shut down all 30 of its American locations. The retailer will reportedly make an announcement at some time on Wednesday via the Fry's website. Rumors began flying on Tuesday in the form of anecdotes from alleged Fry's employees, who all reported that they'd been summarily fired earlier in the day with zero notice. One anonymous report posted at The Layoff alleged that every remaining Fry's store in the US was "permanently closing tomorrow," and that statement was repeated hours later at a Fry's-related Reddit community. The Reddit post included the allegation that one store's staffers were tasked with shipping any remaining merchandise back to suppliers during their final day at work. Sacramento freelance journalist Matthew Keys followed these posts by citing an unnamed source -- someone who had worked at Fry's up until "this week" -- who claimed that the electronics chain would make a formal announcement "this week" about closing all of its stores and liquidating any remaining assets. As the wave of rumors exploded, the official Fry's website began serving failure notices -- yet some of its subsite content, particularly years-old press releases, remained active through Frys.com subdomains. As Tuesday wore on, the Fry's retail site flickered in and out of normal service, even letting customers buy products after KRON-4's report went live.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

;
HP is Buying Gaming Accessory Brand HyperX for $425 Million
HP has announced that it is acquiring gaming peripheral company HyperX for $425 million. The purchase will give HP a major foothold in the gaming accessory market. From a report: This transaction will result in HP buying the HyperX brand from Kingston, the current owner, but HP notes in the announcement post that "Kingston will retain the DRAM, flash, and SSD products for gamers and enthusiasts." HP has been making strides to enter the gaming peripheral space for the last several years but has not gained much traction compared to other brands such as Corsair and Logitech. HyperX is one of the most notable brands in this space, with gaming accessories ranging from PC gaming peripherals to gaming microphones.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

;
A Digital Firewall in Myanmar, Built With Guns and Wire Cutters
The Myanmar soldiers descended before dawn on Feb. 1, bearing rifles and wire cutters. At gunpoint, they ordered technicians at telecom operators to switch off the internet. For good measure, the soldiers snipped wires without knowing what they were severing, according to an eyewitness and a person briefed on the events. The New York Times: The data center raids in Yangon and other cities in Myanmar were part of a coordinated strike in which the military seized power, locked up the country's elected leaders and took most of its internet users offline. Since the coup, the military has repeatedly shut off the internet and cut access to major social media sites, isolating a country that had only in the past few years linked to the outside world. The military regime has also floated legislation that could criminalize the mildest opinions expressed online. So far, the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, has depended on cruder forms of control to restrict the flow of information. But the army seems serious about setting up a digital fence to more aggressively filter what people see and do online. Developing such a system could take years and would likely require outside help from Beijing or Moscow, according to experts. Such a comprehensive firewall may also exact a heavy price: The internet outages since the coup have paralyzed a struggling economy. Longer disruptions will damage local business interests and foreign investor confidence as well as the military's own vast business interests. [...] If Myanmar's digital controls become permanent, they would add to the global walls that are increasingly dividing what was supposed to be an open, borderless internet. The blocks would also offer fresh evidence that more countries are looking to China's authoritarian model to tame the internet. Two weeks after the coup, Cambodia, which is under China's economic sway, also unveiled its own sweeping internet controls. Even policymakers in the United States and Europe are setting their own rules, although these are far less severe. Technologists worry such moves could ultimately break apart the internet, effectively undermining the online networks that link the world together.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

;
A New Browser Extension Blocks Any Websites that Use Google, Facebook, Microsoft, or Amazon
The Economic Security Project is trying to make a point about big tech monopolies by releasing a browser plugin that will block any sites that reach out to IP addresses owned by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, or Amazon. From a report: The extension is called Big Tech Detective, and after using the internet with it for a day (or, more accurately, trying and failing to use), I'd say it drives home the point that it's almost impossible to avoid these companies on the modern web, even if you try. Currently, the app has to be side-loaded onto Chrome, and the Economic Security Project expects that will remain the case. It's also available to side-load onto Firefox. By default, it just keeps track of how many requests are sent, and to which companies. If you configure the extension to actually block websites, you'll see a big red popup if the website you're visiting sends a request to any of the four. That popup will also include a list of all the requests so you can get an idea of what's being asked for.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Huawei Turns To Pig Farming as Smartphone Sales Fall
Huawei is turning to technology for pig farmers as it deals with tough sanctions on its smartphones. From a report: The Chinese telecoms giant was stopped from accessing vital components after the Trump administration labelled it a threat to US national security. In response to struggling smartphone sales, Huawei is looking at other sources of revenue for its technology. Along with Artificial Intelligence (AI) tech for pig farmers, Huawei is also working with the coal mining industry. Former US President Donald Trump claimed Huawei can share customer data with the Chinese government, allegations it has repeatedly denied. As a result, the world's largest telecoms equipment maker has been limited to making 4G models as it lacks US government permission to import components for 5G models. Huawei's smartphone sales plunged 42% in the last quarter of 2020 as it struggled with a limited supply of microchips due to the sanctions. Huawei has also been locked out of the development of 5G in a number of countries, including the UK, amid fears over national security. [...] China has the world's biggest pig farming industry and is home to half the world's live hogs. Technology is helping to modernise pig farms with AI being introduced to detect diseases and track pigs. Facial recognition technology can identify individual pigs, while other technology monitors their weight, diet and exercise. Huawei has already been developing facial recognition tech and faced criticism last month for a system that identifies people who appear to be of Uighur origin among images of pedestrians. Other Chinese tech giants, including JD.com and Alibaba, are already working with pig farmers in China to bring new technologies.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

;
Apple M1 Mac Users Report Excessive SSD Wear
Over the past week, some M1 Mac users have been reporting alarming SSD health readings, suggesting that these devices are writing extraordinary amounts of data to their drives. From a report: Across Twitter and the MacRumors forums, users are reporting that M1 Macs are experiencing extremely high drive writes over a short space of time. In what appear to be the most severe cases, M1 Macs are said to be consuming as much as 10 to 13 percent of the maximum warrantable total bytes written (TBW) value of its SSD. Flash memory on solid-state drives, such as those used in Macs, can only be written to a certain number of times before they become unstable. Software ensures that load is spread evenly across the drive's memory cells, but there is a point when the drive has been written to so many times that it can no longer reliably hold data. So while SSD wear is normal, expected behavior, drives should not be exhausting their ability to hold data as quickly as some M1 Macs seem to be. One user showed that their M1 Mac had already consumed one percent of its SSD after just two months, while another M1 Mac with a 2TB SSD had already consumed three percent. The total data units written for these machines is running into many terabytes, when they would normally be expected to be considerably lower.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

;
Flash Version Distributed in China After EOL is Installing Adware
Although the Flash Player app formally reached its end of life on December 31, 2020, Adobe has allowed a local Chinese company to continue distributing Flash inside China, where the application still remains a large part of the local IT ecosystem and is broadly used across both the public and private sectors. From a report: Currently, this Chinese version of the old Flash Player app is available only via flash.cn, a website managed by a company named Zhong Cheng Network, the only entity authorized by Adobe to distribute Flash inside China. But in a report published earlier this month, security firm Minerva Labs said its security products picked up multiple security alerts linked to this Chinese Flash Player version. During subsequent analysis, researchers found that the app was indeed installing a valid version of Flash but also downloading and running additional payloads. More precisely, the app was downloading and running nt.dll, a file that was loaded inside the FlashHelperService.exe process and which proceed to open a new browser window at regular intervals, showing various ad- and popup-heavy sites.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

;
Software Bug Keeping Hundreds Of Inmates In Arizona Prisons Beyond Release Dates
According to Arizona Department of Corrections whistleblowers, hundreds of incarcerated people who should be eligible for release are being held in prison because the inmate management software cannot interpret current sentencing laws. From a report: KJZZ is not naming the whistleblowers because they fear retaliation. The employees said they have been raising the issue internally for more than a year, but prison administrators have not acted to fix the software bug. The sources said Chief Information Officer Holly Greene and Deputy Director Joe Profiri have been aware of the problem since 2019. The Arizona Department of Corrections confirmed there is a problem with the software. As of 2019, the department had spent more than $24 million contracting with IT company Business & Decision, North America to build and maintain the software program, known as ACIS, that is used to manage the inmate population in state prisons. One of the software modules within ACIS, designed to calculate release dates for inmates, is presently unable to account for an amendment to state law that was passed in 2019.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

;
Square Buys $170 Million Worth of Bitcoins
Square said today it has purchased approximately 3,318 bitcoins at an aggregate purchase price of $170 million. From a statement: Combined with Square's previous purchase of $50 million in bitcoin, this represents approximately five percent of Square's total cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities as of December 31, 2020.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Apple Has Bought Over 100 Companies Over the Past Six Years, Tim Cook Tells Investors
Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook fielded questions on mergers and acquisitions, the impact of Covid-19, and the company's supply chain during a virtual shareholder meeting on Tuesday. From a report: Narrating a slide show, Cook summarized many of the company's new products and initiatives announced over the past year. He spoke about the latest iPhones and the growing potential of the Apple Watch, while noting that the AirPods Max headphones have quickly become "hugely popular" with users. He also discussed Apple's efforts to combat the pandemic, climate change, and the San Francisco Bay Area housing crisis. During a question and answer session, Cook said Apple is on track to meet its environment goals, including becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and transitioning its products to using recycled materials. He also reiterated Apple's recent privacy changes, including an imminent plan to limit ad targeting on its devices. Cook said the company bought almost 100 smaller companies over the past six years and makes a deal about every three to four weeks. Asked about gender pay equity, the CEO said Apple pays men and women equally across the world and has stopped asking applicants about their salary history to help ensure equity.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Vaccines Adapted for Variants Will Not Need Lengthy Testing, FDA Says
The Food and Drug Administration said this week that vaccine developers would not need to conduct lengthy randomized controlled trials for vaccines that have been adapted to protect against concerning coronavirus variants. From a report: The recommendations, which call for small trials more like those required for annual flu vaccines, would greatly accelerate the review process at a time when scientists are increasingly anxious about how the variants might slow or reverse progress made against the virus. The guidance was part of a slate of new documents the agency released on Monday, including others addressing how antibody treatments and diagnostic tests might need to be retooled to respond to the virus variants. Together, they amounted to the federal government's most detailed acknowledgment of the threat the variants pose to existing vaccines, treatments and tests for the coronavirus, and came weeks after the F.D.A.'s acting commissioner, Dr. Janet Woodcock, said the agency was developing a plan. "The emergence of the virus variants raises new concerns about the performance of these products," Dr. Woodcock said in a statement Monday. "We want the American public to know that we are using every tool in our toolbox to fight this pandemic, including pivoting as the virus adapts." Most of the vaccine manufacturers with authorized vaccines or candidates in late-stage trials have already announced plans to adjust their products to address the vaccine variants. The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines use mRNA technology that the companies have said can be used to alter the existing vaccines within six weeks, although testing and manufacturing would take longer. Moderna has already begun developing a new version of its vaccine that could be used as a booster shot against a virus variant that originated in South Africa, known as B.1.351, which seems to dampen the effectiveness of the existing vaccines. A fast-spreading coronavirus variant first observed in Britain has also gained a worrisome mutation that could make it harder to control with vaccines. That variant with the mutation was found in the United States last week.

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Google's Password Checkup Feature Coming To Android
Android users can now take advantage of the Password Checkup feature that Google first introduced in its Chrome web browser in late 2019, the OS maker announced today. From a report: On Android, the Password Checkup feature is now part of the "Autofill with Google" mechanism, which the OS uses to select text from a cache and fill in forms. The idea is that the Password Checkup feature will take passwords stored in the Android OS password manager and check them against a database containing billions of records from public data breaches and see if the password has been previously leaked online. If it has, a warning is shown to the user.

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Samsung Now Updates Android For Longer than Google Does
Samsung is upping the ante on Android updates and offering four years of security updates on many of its Android devices. The company's full update package is now three years of major OS updates and four years of security updates, besting even what Google offers on the Pixel line. From a report: In the announcement, Samsung says, "Over the past decade, Samsung has made significant progress in streamlining and speeding up its regular security updates. Samsung worked closely with its OS and chipset partners, as well as over 200 carriers around the world, to ensure that billions of Galaxy devices receive timely security patches." Samsung has experimented with bringing four years of updates to its own Exynos SoC devices, but now it looks like the company is getting Qualcomm models on board as well. Keep in mind that these are not necessarily monthly security updates. Samsung says it's delivering four years of "monthly or quarterly" updates, depending on the age of the device. Samsung's current security bulletin page has the Galaxy S9 (2018) on the monthly update plan, while the Galaxy S8 is on the quarterly plan. So it sounds like three years of monthly security updates and one more year of quarterly updates.

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PlayStation CEO Says PS5 Will Get Its Own VR Headset
The PlayStation 5 will have its own virtual reality headset, however, consumers may face ongoing difficulties obtaining a PS5 console given a supply chain shortfall. From a report: Ryan revealed both developments in a Monday interview with The Washington Post. Ryan said developments kits for the PS5-specific VR headset will be sent out soon, though the company isn't ready to talk about the device's horsepower or specs. He did say the next headset will be considerably less cumbersome, as opposed to the current PSVR setup that requires wires running through a PlayStation 4, the TV and a separate black box called the PSVR processor. "Generational leaps allows you to sweep up the advances in technology that have taken place," Ryan said. "Given this was our first foray into virtual reality, it gives us a chance to apply lessons learned. One of the very vivid illustrations of that is that we will be moving to a very easy single-cord setup." The next version of PlayStation VR will also borrow from its groundbreaking DualSense controllers, which debuted with the PS5 and provide super specific haptic feedback from the game to the palms of a player's hands. "One of the innovations we're excited about is our new VR controller, which will incorporate some of the key features found in the DualSense wireless controller, along with a focus on great ergonomics," Senior Vice President, Platform Planning & Management Hideaki Nishino wrote in a post on PlayStation's website Tuesday. There's no set launch date for the new VR device, according to Ryan. In an October 2020 interview with The Post, Ryan said while Sony was still very much interested in VR, any more news about the company's VR investments may not come in 2021.

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Starlink Will Hit 300Mbps and Expand To 'Most of Earth' This Year
Starlink broadband speeds will double to 300Mbps "later this year," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter this week. SpaceX has been telling users to expect speeds of 50Mbps to 150Mbps since the beta began a few months ago. From a report: Musk also wrote that "latency will drop to ~20ms later this year." This is no surprise, as SpaceX promised latency of 20ms to 40ms during the beta and had said months ago that "we expect to achieve 16ms to 19ms by summer 2021." It sounds like the speed and latency improvements will roll out around the same time as when Starlink switches from beta to more widespread availability. Two weeks ago, Starlink opened preorders for service expected to be available in the second half of 2021, albeit with limited availability in each region. Reader xonen writes: Starlink has become available in my country, The Netherlands. I verified pricing -- it's the same prices in Euros as in the USA in dollars, which was to be expected due to sales taxes being about equal the difference in value between dollars and euro's, so 99 euro monthly, and 499 up front for the hardware. From the email: Starlink is now available for order to a limited number of users in your coverage area. Placing your order now will hold your place in line for future service. Orders will be fulfilled on a first-come, first-served basis. During beta, users can expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all. As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations and improve our networking software, data speed, latency and uptime will improve dramatically. The Starlink team will provide periodic updates on availability as we launch more satellites and expand our coverage area. Depending on your location, some orders may take 6 months or more to fulfill. To check availability for your location, visit Starlink.com and re-enter your service address. Thank you for your interest in Starlink and your continued support!

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Fry's Electronics Going Out of Business, Shutting Down All Stores
UnknowingFool and scores of other readers have shared this report: Fry's Electronics, the decades-old superstore chain with locations in nine American states, appears to have gone defunct. Bay Area TV station KRON-4 was the first press outlet to confirm the news late Tuesday, saying that Fry's will shut down all 30 of its American locations. The retailer will reportedly make an announcement at some time on Wednesday via the Fry's website. Rumors began flying on Tuesday in the form of anecdotes from alleged Fry's employees, who all reported that they'd been summarily fired earlier in the day with zero notice. One anonymous report posted at The Layoff alleged that every remaining Fry's store in the US was "permanently closing tomorrow," and that statement was repeated hours later at a Fry's-related Reddit community. The Reddit post included the allegation that one store's staffers were tasked with shipping any remaining merchandise back to suppliers during their final day at work. Sacramento freelance journalist Matthew Keys followed these posts by citing an unnamed source -- someone who had worked at Fry's up until "this week" -- who claimed that the electronics chain would make a formal announcement "this week" about closing all of its stores and liquidating any remaining assets. As the wave of rumors exploded, the official Fry's website began serving failure notices -- yet some of its subsite content, particularly years-old press releases, remained active through Frys.com subdomains. As Tuesday wore on, the Fry's retail site flickered in and out of normal service, even letting customers buy products after KRON-4's report went live.

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HP is Buying Gaming Accessory Brand HyperX for $425 Million
HP has announced that it is acquiring gaming peripheral company HyperX for $425 million. The purchase will give HP a major foothold in the gaming accessory market. From a report: This transaction will result in HP buying the HyperX brand from Kingston, the current owner, but HP notes in the announcement post that "Kingston will retain the DRAM, flash, and SSD products for gamers and enthusiasts." HP has been making strides to enter the gaming peripheral space for the last several years but has not gained much traction compared to other brands such as Corsair and Logitech. HyperX is one of the most notable brands in this space, with gaming accessories ranging from PC gaming peripherals to gaming microphones.

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A Digital Firewall in Myanmar, Built With Guns and Wire Cutters
The Myanmar soldiers descended before dawn on Feb. 1, bearing rifles and wire cutters. At gunpoint, they ordered technicians at telecom operators to switch off the internet. For good measure, the soldiers snipped wires without knowing what they were severing, according to an eyewitness and a person briefed on the events. The New York Times: The data center raids in Yangon and other cities in Myanmar were part of a coordinated strike in which the military seized power, locked up the country's elected leaders and took most of its internet users offline. Since the coup, the military has repeatedly shut off the internet and cut access to major social media sites, isolating a country that had only in the past few years linked to the outside world. The military regime has also floated legislation that could criminalize the mildest opinions expressed online. So far, the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, has depended on cruder forms of control to restrict the flow of information. But the army seems serious about setting up a digital fence to more aggressively filter what people see and do online. Developing such a system could take years and would likely require outside help from Beijing or Moscow, according to experts. Such a comprehensive firewall may also exact a heavy price: The internet outages since the coup have paralyzed a struggling economy. Longer disruptions will damage local business interests and foreign investor confidence as well as the military's own vast business interests. [...] If Myanmar's digital controls become permanent, they would add to the global walls that are increasingly dividing what was supposed to be an open, borderless internet. The blocks would also offer fresh evidence that more countries are looking to China's authoritarian model to tame the internet. Two weeks after the coup, Cambodia, which is under China's economic sway, also unveiled its own sweeping internet controls. Even policymakers in the United States and Europe are setting their own rules, although these are far less severe. Technologists worry such moves could ultimately break apart the internet, effectively undermining the online networks that link the world together.

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A New Browser Extension Blocks Any Websites that Use Google, Facebook, Microsoft, or Amazon
The Economic Security Project is trying to make a point about big tech monopolies by releasing a browser plugin that will block any sites that reach out to IP addresses owned by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, or Amazon. From a report: The extension is called Big Tech Detective, and after using the internet with it for a day (or, more accurately, trying and failing to use), I'd say it drives home the point that it's almost impossible to avoid these companies on the modern web, even if you try. Currently, the app has to be side-loaded onto Chrome, and the Economic Security Project expects that will remain the case. It's also available to side-load onto Firefox. By default, it just keeps track of how many requests are sent, and to which companies. If you configure the extension to actually block websites, you'll see a big red popup if the website you're visiting sends a request to any of the four. That popup will also include a list of all the requests so you can get an idea of what's being asked for.

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Huawei Turns To Pig Farming as Smartphone Sales Fall
Huawei is turning to technology for pig farmers as it deals with tough sanctions on its smartphones. From a report: The Chinese telecoms giant was stopped from accessing vital components after the Trump administration labelled it a threat to US national security. In response to struggling smartphone sales, Huawei is looking at other sources of revenue for its technology. Along with Artificial Intelligence (AI) tech for pig farmers, Huawei is also working with the coal mining industry. Former US President Donald Trump claimed Huawei can share customer data with the Chinese government, allegations it has repeatedly denied. As a result, the world's largest telecoms equipment maker has been limited to making 4G models as it lacks US government permission to import components for 5G models. Huawei's smartphone sales plunged 42% in the last quarter of 2020 as it struggled with a limited supply of microchips due to the sanctions. Huawei has also been locked out of the development of 5G in a number of countries, including the UK, amid fears over national security. [...] China has the world's biggest pig farming industry and is home to half the world's live hogs. Technology is helping to modernise pig farms with AI being introduced to detect diseases and track pigs. Facial recognition technology can identify individual pigs, while other technology monitors their weight, diet and exercise. Huawei has already been developing facial recognition tech and faced criticism last month for a system that identifies people who appear to be of Uighur origin among images of pedestrians. Other Chinese tech giants, including JD.com and Alibaba, are already working with pig farmers in China to bring new technologies.

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Apple M1 Mac Users Report Excessive SSD Wear
Over the past week, some M1 Mac users have been reporting alarming SSD health readings, suggesting that these devices are writing extraordinary amounts of data to their drives. From a report: Across Twitter and the MacRumors forums, users are reporting that M1 Macs are experiencing extremely high drive writes over a short space of time. In what appear to be the most severe cases, M1 Macs are said to be consuming as much as 10 to 13 percent of the maximum warrantable total bytes written (TBW) value of its SSD. Flash memory on solid-state drives, such as those used in Macs, can only be written to a certain number of times before they become unstable. Software ensures that load is spread evenly across the drive's memory cells, but there is a point when the drive has been written to so many times that it can no longer reliably hold data. So while SSD wear is normal, expected behavior, drives should not be exhausting their ability to hold data as quickly as some M1 Macs seem to be. One user showed that their M1 Mac had already consumed one percent of its SSD after just two months, while another M1 Mac with a 2TB SSD had already consumed three percent. The total data units written for these machines is running into many terabytes, when they would normally be expected to be considerably lower.

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Flash Version Distributed in China After EOL is Installing Adware
Although the Flash Player app formally reached its end of life on December 31, 2020, Adobe has allowed a local Chinese company to continue distributing Flash inside China, where the application still remains a large part of the local IT ecosystem and is broadly used across both the public and private sectors. From a report: Currently, this Chinese version of the old Flash Player app is available only via flash.cn, a website managed by a company named Zhong Cheng Network, the only entity authorized by Adobe to distribute Flash inside China. But in a report published earlier this month, security firm Minerva Labs said its security products picked up multiple security alerts linked to this Chinese Flash Player version. During subsequent analysis, researchers found that the app was indeed installing a valid version of Flash but also downloading and running additional payloads. More precisely, the app was downloading and running nt.dll, a file that was loaded inside the FlashHelperService.exe process and which proceed to open a new browser window at regular intervals, showing various ad- and popup-heavy sites.

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Software Bug Keeping Hundreds Of Inmates In Arizona Prisons Beyond Release Dates
According to Arizona Department of Corrections whistleblowers, hundreds of incarcerated people who should be eligible for release are being held in prison because the inmate management software cannot interpret current sentencing laws. From a report: KJZZ is not naming the whistleblowers because they fear retaliation. The employees said they have been raising the issue internally for more than a year, but prison administrators have not acted to fix the software bug. The sources said Chief Information Officer Holly Greene and Deputy Director Joe Profiri have been aware of the problem since 2019. The Arizona Department of Corrections confirmed there is a problem with the software. As of 2019, the department had spent more than $24 million contracting with IT company Business & Decision, North America to build and maintain the software program, known as ACIS, that is used to manage the inmate population in state prisons. One of the software modules within ACIS, designed to calculate release dates for inmates, is presently unable to account for an amendment to state law that was passed in 2019.

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Square Buys $170 Million Worth of Bitcoins
Square said today it has purchased approximately 3,318 bitcoins at an aggregate purchase price of $170 million. From a statement: Combined with Square's previous purchase of $50 million in bitcoin, this represents approximately five percent of Square's total cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities as of December 31, 2020.

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Apple Has Bought Over 100 Companies Over the Past Six Years, Tim Cook Tells Investors
Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook fielded questions on mergers and acquisitions, the impact of Covid-19, and the company's supply chain during a virtual shareholder meeting on Tuesday. From a report: Narrating a slide show, Cook summarized many of the company's new products and initiatives announced over the past year. He spoke about the latest iPhones and the growing potential of the Apple Watch, while noting that the AirPods Max headphones have quickly become "hugely popular" with users. He also discussed Apple's efforts to combat the pandemic, climate change, and the San Francisco Bay Area housing crisis. During a question and answer session, Cook said Apple is on track to meet its environment goals, including becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and transitioning its products to using recycled materials. He also reiterated Apple's recent privacy changes, including an imminent plan to limit ad targeting on its devices. Cook said the company bought almost 100 smaller companies over the past six years and makes a deal about every three to four weeks. Asked about gender pay equity, the CEO said Apple pays men and women equally across the world and has stopped asking applicants about their salary history to help ensure equity.

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Vaccines Adapted for Variants Will Not Need Lengthy Testing, FDA Says
The Food and Drug Administration said this week that vaccine developers would not need to conduct lengthy randomized controlled trials for vaccines that have been adapted to protect against concerning coronavirus variants. From a report: The recommendations, which call for small trials more like those required for annual flu vaccines, would greatly accelerate the review process at a time when scientists are increasingly anxious about how the variants might slow or reverse progress made against the virus. The guidance was part of a slate of new documents the agency released on Monday, including others addressing how antibody treatments and diagnostic tests might need to be retooled to respond to the virus variants. Together, they amounted to the federal government's most detailed acknowledgment of the threat the variants pose to existing vaccines, treatments and tests for the coronavirus, and came weeks after the F.D.A.'s acting commissioner, Dr. Janet Woodcock, said the agency was developing a plan. "The emergence of the virus variants raises new concerns about the performance of these products," Dr. Woodcock said in a statement Monday. "We want the American public to know that we are using every tool in our toolbox to fight this pandemic, including pivoting as the virus adapts." Most of the vaccine manufacturers with authorized vaccines or candidates in late-stage trials have already announced plans to adjust their products to address the vaccine variants. The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines use mRNA technology that the companies have said can be used to alter the existing vaccines within six weeks, although testing and manufacturing would take longer. Moderna has already begun developing a new version of its vaccine that could be used as a booster shot against a virus variant that originated in South Africa, known as B.1.351, which seems to dampen the effectiveness of the existing vaccines. A fast-spreading coronavirus variant first observed in Britain has also gained a worrisome mutation that could make it harder to control with vaccines. That variant with the mutation was found in the United States last week.

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Google's Password Checkup Feature Coming To Android
Android users can now take advantage of the Password Checkup feature that Google first introduced in its Chrome web browser in late 2019, the OS maker announced today. From a report: On Android, the Password Checkup feature is now part of the "Autofill with Google" mechanism, which the OS uses to select text from a cache and fill in forms. The idea is that the Password Checkup feature will take passwords stored in the Android OS password manager and check them against a database containing billions of records from public data breaches and see if the password has been previously leaked online. If it has, a warning is shown to the user.

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Samsung Now Updates Android For Longer than Google Does
Samsung is upping the ante on Android updates and offering four years of security updates on many of its Android devices. The company's full update package is now three years of major OS updates and four years of security updates, besting even what Google offers on the Pixel line. From a report: In the announcement, Samsung says, "Over the past decade, Samsung has made significant progress in streamlining and speeding up its regular security updates. Samsung worked closely with its OS and chipset partners, as well as over 200 carriers around the world, to ensure that billions of Galaxy devices receive timely security patches." Samsung has experimented with bringing four years of updates to its own Exynos SoC devices, but now it looks like the company is getting Qualcomm models on board as well. Keep in mind that these are not necessarily monthly security updates. Samsung says it's delivering four years of "monthly or quarterly" updates, depending on the age of the device. Samsung's current security bulletin page has the Galaxy S9 (2018) on the monthly update plan, while the Galaxy S8 is on the quarterly plan. So it sounds like three years of monthly security updates and one more year of quarterly updates.

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PlayStation CEO Says PS5 Will Get Its Own VR Headset
The PlayStation 5 will have its own virtual reality headset, however, consumers may face ongoing difficulties obtaining a PS5 console given a supply chain shortfall. From a report: Ryan revealed both developments in a Monday interview with The Washington Post. Ryan said developments kits for the PS5-specific VR headset will be sent out soon, though the company isn't ready to talk about the device's horsepower or specs. He did say the next headset will be considerably less cumbersome, as opposed to the current PSVR setup that requires wires running through a PlayStation 4, the TV and a separate black box called the PSVR processor. "Generational leaps allows you to sweep up the advances in technology that have taken place," Ryan said. "Given this was our first foray into virtual reality, it gives us a chance to apply lessons learned. One of the very vivid illustrations of that is that we will be moving to a very easy single-cord setup." The next version of PlayStation VR will also borrow from its groundbreaking DualSense controllers, which debuted with the PS5 and provide super specific haptic feedback from the game to the palms of a player's hands. "One of the innovations we're excited about is our new VR controller, which will incorporate some of the key features found in the DualSense wireless controller, along with a focus on great ergonomics," Senior Vice President, Platform Planning & Management Hideaki Nishino wrote in a post on PlayStation's website Tuesday. There's no set launch date for the new VR device, according to Ryan. In an October 2020 interview with The Post, Ryan said while Sony was still very much interested in VR, any more news about the company's VR investments may not come in 2021.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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