When people on the streets tell you that the government is spying on you, they might be right in saying that. Law enforcement and other federal agencies have been purchasing several technologies that would allow them to check up on Americans – even against their will.
A recent $1.2 million purchase was made by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a technology that would essentially hack into a locked iPhone. The acquisition underscores how law enforcement and other federal agencies are using technology in violation of Americans’ rights to privacy.
The said contract has two components. The first one, valued at $384,000 and was made in September 2018, and another made this month for $819,000. Sources revealed that the said hacking equipment will go to the agency’s Homeland Security Investigation unit. The unit focuses on the investigation on immigration crimes, drug trafficking, child exploitation, and money laundering, according to Thomas Brewster from Forbes.
Nonetheless, the ICE refused to disclose how the equipment will be used and for what purpose will it serve, but according to Washington Post, the contract come amid heightened and pervasive concern about the warrantless searches of phones and laptops that ICE and Customs and Border Protection conduct at airports and other points of entry following the stringent immigration crackdown by the Trump administration.
The American Civil Liberties, who sued the US government over the warrantless searches in the airport by two federal agencies said that they found that “CBP and ICE are asserting near-unfettered authority to search and seize travelers’ devices at the border.” That includes “for purposes far afield from the enforcement of immigration and customs laws” including “investigating and enforcing bankruptcy, environmental, and consumer protection laws.”
The said contract of ICE is with a company known as Grayshift. The company is known for marketing tools to law enforcement specifically those that can hack into locked iPhones. They have been involved in so many conflicts with Apple as the tech company develops encryptions that would block Grayshift’s ability to hack into the device, but Grayshift seems always to find a new way to get in.
In the past, Grayshift has signed contracts with different federal agencies since 2017 including ICE, the Secret Service, the FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The total amount of deal the company inked with the U.S. government reaches $2.6 million according to the information on a government spending database.
In 2015, the FBI had waged a high-stakes lawsuit against Apple, the manufacturer of iPhones, because according to them, the security features in the phones make it hard for law enforcement and investigation agencies to bypass. According to the FBI, the advanced encryption systems in iPhones are hurting their investigations and are allowing criminals and terrorists to “go dark” online. They have been complaining that tech companies have been very uncooperative in helping them bypass those encryptions and now it seems that they are turning into another technology to avoid them without the permission of the user or the phone manufacturer.
Despite the hot water that federal agencies have been bathing in as the issue on hacking and encryption breaking becomes more public, the FBI, among other federal agencies in question, is yet to prove that their inability to bypass the said encryption systems thwarts their investigation.
In fact, in the 2015 lawsuit that FBI filed to compel Apple to help them decrypt the iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, the bureau ultimately withdraw its demand due to the lack of proof of the necessity of decryption. Sources suggest that an unnamed third party offered to help the agency hack into the iPhone for a hefty price.
The specific “help” that the third party offered was to disable a safeguard that would have wiped the phone’s contents after too many wrong password guesses. Interestingly, this method is similar to what Grayshift is offering. When this safeguard is disabled, federal agencies can run a program that tries all possible password combinations until they finally land on the right one without the risk of the content being wiped out.
Critics argue that the rush to litigate their demands against Apple is aimed not to hack the specific iPhone used by the shooter in the case but instead to set a precedent that would make it easier for them to request from the court a similar demand in the future.
The Fastest MacBook Is Here
Apple announced today that they’re releasing a new line of MacBooks with features that boasts as the fastest version yet. Along with the updates, the new MacBooks will also come with solutions to common keyboard problems that have grown to be a nuisance to most users.
MacBooks have grown popularity amongst consumers mainly because of the branding and marketing that comes along with products released under the Apple name. To put it more frankly, owning a MacBook has become a status symbol turned staple in today’s generation. The sleek and clean design also contributes to the growing customer base of the Cupertino firm.
Today, ahead of this year’s Apple’s WWDC, Apple announced its latest line of MacBooks with new hardware processors which the company prides as the fastest version they’ve ever introduced. Apple is updating the 15” MacBook Pro to 8-core and 6-core processors and its 13” MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar to 8th-gen quad-core processors.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro is getting a faster 6- and 8-core Intel Core processors, delivering Turbo Boost speeds of up to 5.0 GHz. The $2,399 configuration of the 15″ MacBook Pro is getting a 2.6GHz 6-core i7 that boosts to 4.5ghz, a 400 MHz increase in turbo speed. Meanwhile, the top end $2,799 config runs at a standard 8-core i9, which is two cores more from the latter with a 500 MHz increase over the current 6-core config.
Meanwhile, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar features faster quad-core processors with Turbo Boost speeds of up to 4.7 GHz. The configure-your-own option gets a 200MHz bump, making it a full 2x faster from the dual-core 13.”
Apple says that these updates would mean that the 15” MacBook Pro will run at double the speed of the previous quad-core models and hit 40% improvements over the 6-core MacBook Pro model.
With these bumps on the Macbooks’ core, these features receive significant jumps in terms of performance:
(1) Music producers can play back massive multi-track projects with up to two times more Alchemy plug-ins in Logic Pro X.
(2) 3D designers can render scenes up to two times faster in Maya Arnold.
(3) Photographers can apply complex edits and filters up to 75 percent faster in Photoshop.
(4) Developers can compile code up to 65 percent faster in Xcode.
(5) Scientists and researchers can compute complex fluid dynamics simulations up to 50 percent faster in TetrUSS.
(6) Video editors can edit up to 11 simultaneous Multicam streams of 4K video in Final Cut Pro X.
In the pursuit of a thinner and lighter MacBook, Apple innovated the way with how their keyboards functioned with using the butterfly method on their keyboards.
What the butterfly keyboard accomplished was to make the keyboard keys press down like butterfly’s wings, unlike the standard scissors method found in most keyboards that are usually bulkier.
However, it has resulted in some rather complicated customer complaints, echoing that their MacBook keyboards have the sticky-keys problem. In some cases, some letters in the MacBook keyboard will not type, and in others, it would type way too much.
The problem with the new design was the dust accumulation in the keys that causes a jam. Thus, causing the keyboard to be stuck when typing any characters.
Apple has tried resolving the issue with applying barriers in between the keys to prevent dust from accumulating in that spot. Further, Apple added the necessary steps to close the doors behind the common keyboard problems.
(1) The MacBook Pro keyboard mechanism has had a materials change in the mechanism. Apple says that this new keyboard mechanism composition will substantially reduce the double-type/no-type issue. Apple will not specify what it has done, but doubtless, tear-downs of the keyboard will reveal what has been updated.
(2) Though Apple believes this change will greatly reduce the issue, it is also including all butterfly keyboards across its notebook line in its Keyboard Service Program. This means that current MacBook Pros and even the models being released today will have keyboard repairs covered at no cost, in warranty and out of warranty.
(3) Apple tells me that repair times for keyboards have been longer than they would like. It is making substantial improvements to repair processes in Apple Stores to make repairs faster for customers with issues.
With the latest news on Apple tech, we can only expect more when their annual WWDC event takes place in less than two weeks.
Privacy-Centered Web Browsers, A Marketing Strategy?
If we learned anything from conferences and events held by big tech companies, it’s that everyone’s banking in with privacy. Individually, web browsers like Apple’s Safari, Google’s Chrome, and Mozilla’s Firefox are all playing catch-up with who gets to show off their latest privacy features or who has the better software that keeps people’s information safe.
Recently, the Federal government started to crackdown how tech companies collect and distribute people’s personal information. Even though they’re about a decade late, they are trying to implement more laws and regulations with how data are handled in public spaces such as the Internet.
It may be true that the government still needs to learn and understand a lot from the inner workings of the Internet, but that’s not stopping the public from raising their concerns. With increasing awareness, people are demanding tech companies to stop exploiting their data.
As the issue of privacy is continuously tackled both by the law and the public, tech companies understand that confidentiality is today’s hot commodity. So, in different events, companies are announcing innovative measures in securing your data to gain public trust and approval.
Mainly, big tech such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple are all differentiating themselves from Facebook who has constantly been berated in public hearings and by tech experts for consistently breaching ethical privacy standards.
In reaction, Mark Zuckerberg has continuously made big claims of turning Facebook into a more safe and private space for its consumers. At the same time, the social media platform continues to fail to fulfill its promises.
The thing is, tech companies earn their dollars through targeted advertising, which is a lot more expensive than regular advertising. However, targeted ads require a ton of personal information collected through a specified period. Facebook does this well, but web browsers do so too.
In recent events, all the big tech companies have boasted that they’re improving how users experience the Internet through their browsers. One of the most obvious ones are changes in how advertisers find you through cookies.
In simple terms, cookies are tiny bits of information that you leave when visiting a website. Cookies can be used to let the website remember who you are, like save your username and password so you would be able to log in seamlessly on your next visit.
However, cookies can also be used to track actions made while using a particular website, which in essence helps the browser create your profile, including your interests, what you search, websites you visit, etc.
What browsers does next to your established profiles is to hand them off to advertisers. This is how you see certain ads on a page that seemingly aligns with your interests.
Tech companies, however, show off that web browsers now include specific blockers that prohibit the browser in creating your profile. This blockers purpose is to secure your activities, making it harder for advertisers to track you and cater ads.
In a sense, the move is a big leap towards a more secure internet ecosystem. However, these companies introducing a privacy-centric web browser are announcing the feature as if it’s a done deal. The inadequate emphasis on how to enable the blockers by accessing your settings menu is appalling. Users-wise, they hardly customize browsers based on secured privacy settings, instead goes with anything that was handed to them.
“By not changing the default, by making it optional, Google is relying on people not changing it,” Brendan Eich, co-founder, and CEO of Brave told Recode. “Chrome users may never know this is an option.”
This is where companies like Google and Mozilla veer away from Apple. Apple has been on the lead with this feature for years. Moreover, they have enabled these blockers by default. So from a perspective, paying more is getting more.
Privacy is a great thing to invest in, but the moment it becomes a selling point rather than an actual tool that helps people from getting exploited is the time when people should start realizing how big tech is only parading privacy over than implementing it.
US-China Trade War Plaguing Tech Industries
As news about the never-ending trade war between the United States and China began to emerge last week, there’s only one thing that’s sure: it’s not going to be good news. As the tension escalates between the two countries, the latest on the trade talks would most likely affect you.
Apparently, the United States has decided to raise tariffs on over $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. That’s a significant leap from the previous 10% to 25%. In obvious retaliation, China has also decided to impose tariffs on over $60 billion on U.S. goods starting June 1. Moreover, another $300 billion could be subjected to higher tariffs from China as early as July. According to the list released by the Office of the United States Trade Representative, it will include a large majority of imports from China. Bluntly, covering nearly all products that the U.S. buy.
Ideally, what President Trump is trying to achieve with the on-going trade war is to pressure China into accepting a deal that would be more beneficial or, at least, less exploitative to American businesses whose manufacturers and resources come from China.
In a series of tweets that Trump has sent out to Twitter this week, he seems to consistently point out that Tariffs are actually a good thing and that the U.S. will gain more in the long run, that is if China will still refuse to accept the deal has previously been offered.
In a tweet, he claims that this year’s “good” first quarter was significantly aided by tariffs from China. That may be true, coming from an economic perspective. However, he seems to have sugarcoated the issue quite too much. The effects of U.S.-China trade wars and tariffs are consequential and definitely not a harmless battle.
In this next string of tweets, Trump seems to have completely been alluded by the idea that China will, in fact, give in to the terms set by the U.S. and that if they won’t, China is still on the losing end because U.S. companies could easily move out of China and source other resources in neighboring countries in Asia such as Vietnam. Better yet, U.S. companies can move their businesses back to provide more jobs for the American people.
But what Trump claims are easier said than done. As of the moment, most U.S. companies rely on China for manufacturing and resources. Particularly, companies like Apple would need to pay much less with Chinese employees compared to the U.S.
Moreover, tech companies source materials such as steel from China, which is vital in phone or tablet making, to name a few. In other words, having a manufacturing house in China would be more cost-effective for U.S. companies because they wouldn’t need to pay for tariffs of moving resources from one country to the other.
Specifically, companies like Apple are the ones at the front to absorb the impact of the latest set of tariffs since tech companies manufacture most of their consumer goods in China. In this case, Apple products like iPhones, iPads, and MacsBooks. So in a couple of months, if you’re looking to buy a Mac charger, expect to pay a few dollars more.
In numbers, Apple had its biggest drop of the year in the stock market since President Trump started to tweet about China tariffs last May 5. It fell 5.8% at $185 and lost almost 12% of its market value. This means a significant $120 billion loss for its shareholders.
In relation to President Trump’s tweet above, tech companies aren’t the only ones who will suffer the latest tariff adjustments. Most of the U.S. farm and produce exports mainly go to China to meet their large demand. However, by increasing tariffs on these products, the Chinese would most likely be forced to buy less or, worse, to source goods outside the U.S.
The trade game that two of the most powerful economies in the world may be a power play between who will give in to whom but the fact still exists that its effects directly affects its citizens. It’s true that the United States may earn from the upsurge of tariff implementations on China but the ones who are really paying are American households and businesses.
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Privacy-Centered Web Browsers, A Marketing Strategy?
[bctt tweet="Privacy is a great thing to invest in, but the moment it becomes a selling point rather than an...
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