TIME technology

Amazon Offered Hachette’s Writers 100% Profits in Latest Salvo Against Publisher

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Debuts The New Kindle DX At NYC's Pace University
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks about the new Kindle DX at a press conference at Pace University May 6, 2009 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

The highly public dispute between Amazon and Hachette targets authors caught in the middle

In a move designed to turn the tables against Hachette amid an ongoing contractual dispute, Amazon offered the publisher’s writers 100 percent of the profits from their respective e-book profits.

The New York Times reports that Amazon executive David Naggar sought to break the impasse between the retailer and the publisher by appealing directly to Hachette’s stable of writers. Naggar sent a letter highlighting the terms of a deal that was rejected by Hachette. The letter argued that the writers would directly benefit from the deal, noting that it would offer them all of their e-books’ sale prices and resume timely shipments of their books. Amazon stalled those shipments and cut inventories after an unusually public falling out with the publisher.

The letter also blamed Hachette for walking away from the negotiating table, claiming that Hachette ignored a January request to resume talks.

[NYT]

TIME Drones

The Best Drone Videos From Around the Web

Flying footage from unmanned aerial vehicles

Drones can act as flying cameras — they can go where we can’t, get footage we can’t. Here, TIME has collected some of the coolest drone videos from around the web. Enjoy!

TIME Aviation

Assume the Brace Position: The Dead Phone Flying Ban Has Begun

British Airways
An Embraer SA passenger aircraft, operated by British Airways, a unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (IAG), comes in to land on a runway at London City Airport as commercial skyscrapers of the Canary Wharf business and shopping district stand beyond in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

British Airways announced Monday it would ban passengers from traveling with uncharged smartphones on U.S.-bound flights

Fellow air travelers, it has begun: After U.S. officials announced over the Fourth of July weekend that some international passengers wouldn’t be allowed to board their flights with a dead smartphone or laptop, British Airways became one of the first carriers to announce an according policy change.

“[U.S.-bound] Customers may be asked to turn on any electronic or battery powered devices such as telephones, tablets, e-books and laptops in front of security teams and/or demonstrate the item’s functionality,” reads BA’s statement, posted late Monday.

What happens if your shiny new iPhone’s out of juice?

“If, when asked to do so, you are unable to demonstrate that your device has power, the device will not be allowed to travel on your planned service.”

The message to travelers: Charge all your electric gizmos and gadgets well ahead of any attempt to board a U.S.-bound flight. And if you can’t find an open power outlet in the Darwinian hunt for a charging source at the airport, you’re out of luck.

The Department of Homeland Security isn’t being totally clear about its rationale about this specific ban, and it would be nice to hear a more concrete explanation. Still, DHS likely has a good reason for the rule — back in 2010, for instance, a pair of bombs capable of taking down an airliner were found on a U.S.-bound cargo flight, and the devices were designed to be triggered by a cellphone.

Still, the ban won’t make the already-cumbersome flying experience any easier. But hey, at least we can use our Kindles while we’re taxi-ing now. And iPhone charging case companies? Get your press releases ready.

TIME Video Games

2K Announces Battleborn, But Do We Need Another MOBA?

To be fair, it may be the first first-person cooperative shooter MOBA on the block.

World, meet the vaguely-named new shooter (kind-of-sort-of) from publisher 2K and Borderlands creator Gearbox Software, Battleborn. Battleborn, meet your nomenclature-cynical readership.

What’s in a name? To be fair not much when it comes to this sort of thing. It’s the alliterative front, the epitome of anodyne label, the rolls-off-the-tongue-like-a-sugar-pellet fishhook you quickly forget once you’re playing the thing. So let’s forgive Gearbox its lapse in titular creativity and focus on what they’re promising Battleborn is and might do.

For starters, and I apologize if this makes you want to close you browser’s view tab, it’s a MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena, which is the somewhat superfluous cool-kids way of referring to a real-time strategy game with action-angled house rules.

Gearbox calls it a “hero-shooter,” and that’s the twist: that it’s a cooperative shooter which Gearbox boldly proclaims will offer “an experience unlike anything you’ve played before.” Given the track record for such multiple-times-daily claims, I highly doubt that, but there you have it.

Here’s the narrative summary, which could really be any narrative summary:

Set in a distant future, the only hope for the last star in a dying universe is a new breed of warriors who must put aside their differences to drive back an unstoppable menace. Players choose from a myriad of powerful heroes and fight together alongside their friends in a narrative-driven co-operative campaign, or battle against them in fast-paced competitive multiplayer matches.

If you want a smidgen more, Game Informer has the exclusive reveal, else there’s some stylish prancing and leaping around to think deeply about in the reveal trailer above.

TIME technology

NSA Spying Hurts Cybersecurity for All of Us Say Privacy Advocates

FILE PHOTO  NSA Compiles Massive Database Of Private Phone Calls
This undated photo provided by the National Security Agency (NSA) shows its headquarters in Fort Meade, Md. NSA/Getty Images

The surveillance debate has focused on the legality of spying on Americans but some say the biggest danger is in the methods the NSA uses

Privacy advocates Monday slammed the National Security Agency for conducting surveillance in a way they say undermines cybersecurity for everyone and harms U.S. tech companies.

“We have examples of the NSA going in and deliberately weakening security of things that we use so they can eavesdrop on particular targets,” said Bruce Schneier, a prominent cryptography writer and technologist. Schneier referenced a Reuters report that the NSA paid the computer security firm RSA $10 million to use a deliberately flawed encryption standard to facilitate easier eavesdropping, a charge RSA has denied. “This very act of undermining not only undermines our security. It undermines our fundamental trust in the things we use to achieve security. It’s very toxic,” Schneier said.

In the year since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s first leaks, attention has focused on the Agency’s surveillance itself, fueling debates over whether it is legal and ethical to spy on American citizens or to eavesdrop on the leaders of allied countries. NSA policies that intentionally undermine cybersecurity too often get left out of the debate, said panelists Monday at a New American Foundation event titled “National Insecurity Agency: How the NSA’s Surveillance Programs Undermine Internet Security.”

“If the Chinese government had proposed to put in a backdoor into our computers and then paid a company $10 million to make that the standard we would be furious,” said Joe Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “That’s exactly what the NSA has become: the best hacker in the entire world.”

In a statement to TIME, the NSA denied it had made the Internet less secure.

“While we cannot comment on specific, alleged intelligence-gathering activities, NSA’s interest in any given technology is driven by the use of that technology by foreign intelligence targets. The United States pursues its intelligence mission with care to ensure that innocent users of those same technologies are not affected,” spokesperson Vanee’ Vines said. “Our participation in standards development has strengthened the core encryption technology that underpins the Internet. NSA cannot crack much of the encryption that guards global commerce – and we don’t want to.”

The tension arises due to the two competing missions of the National Security Agency: electronic surveillance and protecting U.S. systems from cyberattacks.

Nearly all of our online communications are encrypted in some way against cyberattack, to protect our bank accounts from thieves and our intimate lives from nosy neighbors. This poses a challenge for the NSA as the agency, since September 11, 2001, has focused less on agents of foreign governments and more on ferreting out terrorist threats. Inevitably the data of innocent people gets caught its dragnet. A Washington Post report Sunday estimated that 90 percent of those caught in the agency’s data surveillance net—including intimate communications like family photographs and emails between lovers—are everyday Internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, many of them American citizens.

The agency has sought to install “backdoors,” hardware and software systems with deliberately weakened security, into some of the most commonly used tech products, as it did in the program codenamed PRISM. American tech companies say this hurts their business in the international marketplace, where users aren’t keen to use software that comes bugged by an American intelligence agency. Major tech firms, including Google, supported an amendment to the defense budget in May to prohibit the NSA from using funds for this kind of backdoor surveillance.

“Maybe a year ago this sort of language might have seemed unnecessary,” Google Privacy Policy Counsel David Lieber said, “but now its actually really important to restore trust that these sorts of things are not being requested and/or required of companies.”

Critics, like panelist Amie Stepanovich, senior policy counsel for the web freedom group Access, say NSA has also worked to crack and undermine encryption standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (the body that establishes the security standards that help protect our email accounts, banking websites, etc.), and hoarded indexes of computer bugs the agency uses to hack into machines rather than reveal the vulnerabilities so they can be fixed.

In the wake of apparently unfounded accusations that the NSA knew about the Heartbleed bug and didn’t help fix it, the administration announced this spring it has “re-invigorated” existing policy on how it decides whether or not to disclose or exploit security vulnerabilities it finds. “Building up a huge stockpile of undisclosed vulnerabilities while leaving the Internet vulnerable and the American people unprotected would not be in our national security interest. But that is not the same as arguing that we should completely forgo this tool as a way to conduct intelligence collection,” White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel wrote in April.

At its core the question comes down to a cost benefit analysis. “The fundamental issue,” Schneier said, “is should we compromise the security of everybody in order to access the data of the few.”

TIME Smartwatches

Android Wear Review: The Watch That Wants to Save You From Your Phone

Jared Newman for TIME

Google's smartwatch platform shows promise, but needs better hardware and smarter features.

A funny thing has happened to me over the last week and a half, as I’ve been reviewing a couple Android Wear smartwatches from LG and Samsung: Instead of being the guy who takes out his phone at every opportunity, I’ve become the one who stands idly by while other people thumb around on their handsets.

It’s not that I’m always fiddling with the screen on my wrist instead; I’m actually spending less time interacting with screens in general. By having all my phone’s notifications in view, I can ignore the ones that aren’t important and quickly deal with the ones that are. And because the phone stays in my pocket, I’m not tempted to spend the next five minutes looking at Twitter or Facebook. Against all logic, tethering a computer to my wrist has been liberating.

But is that idea enough to convince people to start wearing watches again? It’s doubtful, especially in Android Wear’s current form.

Right now, there are two smartwatches that run on Google’s Android Wear platform. Samsung’s Gear Live costs $199 and is a bit gaudy with its metallic trim and slim snap-on wristband, while the $229 LG G Watch strikes a more utilitarian look with a rubberized band and all-plastic finish. In both cases, the aesthetic leans toward “geek badge of honor,” thanks to clunky rectangular bodies and thick black bezels around the displays. (I’ll compare the two watches more in a future post, as I’ve only spent a day with LG’s model. My quick impressions are that Samsung has the better screen and more appealing design, while LG’s drop-in dock is more convenient for nightly charging.)

The Notification Machine

Like other smartwatches on the market already, such as the Pebble and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear line, Android Wear puts your phone’s notifications on your wrist. But what stands about Google’s approach is how little effort it takes to view these notifications and take action on them with a swipe or voice command.

With Android Wear, there’s hardly any setup involved. Everything’s tied to the actionable notifications on Android phones, so once you’ve paired the watch over Bluetooth, you can immediately do things like manage e-mails, dismiss text messages, control the phone’s music playback, glance at sports scores and get traffic alerts from Google Now. The screen stays in greyscale mode until you tap it or tilt it toward you, at which point you can view each notification by flicking upward.

Jared Newman for TIME

 

This can lead to some delightful moments as you get in the habit of glancing at your wrist for information. Last weekend, for instance, I made a quick trip to the grocery store to grab some breakfast items when I caught a notification from Todo Cloud, a free smartphone app that supports location-based reminders. It was telling me to pick up some pasta–something I’d reminded myself to do earlier–and I would have missed the message if it hadn’t been waiting on my wrist. Without any extra effort on my part, Android Wear saved me a return trip to the store.

It helps that the software is smooth and responsive, and generally runs without any glitches, but I do have a few nitpicks: It takes a little too long for the system to recognize swiping after the screen lights up, and I wish you could un-dismiss a notification if you accidentally swipe it away. It’d also be nice if the main screen had an icon bar, like the one on Android phones, so you could get a high-level view of which notifications are waiting.

Android Wear will also face some natural growing pains, as a lot of third-party apps still haven’t optimized their code for wearables. For example, Secret can notify you when a friend posts, but doesn’t show you the actual post on the watch. You can retweet or “favorite” a Twitter mention, but you can’t reply directly by voice. In WhatsApp, there’s no way to view full messages, reply to them or mark them as read. Because Android Wear is supposed to just work, it’s disappointing when these apps don’t.

That same kind of uncertainty carries over to Android Wear’s voice commands, which you trigger by tapping the main screen or saying “OK Google.” This is useful for quickly dictating a text message, setting a reminder or pulling up turn-by-turn directions, but most third-party apps don’t work with voice — and the handful that do require you to memorize specific syntax. Voice recognition also stumbles in some areas, always recognizing “Android Wear” as “Android Where,” for instance, and failing to interpret punctuation commands like “comma” and “question mark.” I quickly learned to avoid voice unless I knew exactly what I was going to get in response.

Why Not Just Take Out Your Phone?

A lot of the above issues are annoyances rather than dealbreakers. But as Google tries to improve the platform, there’s a more fundamental dilemma that Android Wear needs to figure out: If most people are happy to whip out their phones, why would they care about a device that spares them from doing so?

The answer, I think, will come from functions that are not as practical on a smartphone–things you might not do at all if you have to take the device out of your pocket. Android Wear lays a foundation for these kinds of uses, but doesn’t provide nearly enough of them.

Going back to my grocery store example, while I was shopping I also saw another notification from Google Wallet, letting me know that I was close to the in-store Starbucks. The reminder alone wasn’t useful, but imagine if Wallet had gone a step further and put my Starbucks card’s barcode on my wrist. If every loyalty card, coupon, ticket and boarding pass could pop up in the right location, I wouldn’t even have to think about reaching for my wallet or phone. This is definitely possible with Android Wear–Delta is already doing it for boarding passes–but it’s not a centerpiece of the platform right now.

Likewise, Google has promised the ability to unlock your smartphone or Chromebook with a paired Android Wear device, and it’s easy to imagine this capability expanding to sensitive third-party apps in the future. But even the basic unlocking feature won’t arrive until the next version of Android comes out this fall.

What we have now is a classic Google work-in-progress. The software needs more ways to surpass the abilities of users’ smartphones, and the hardware needs to get thinner, lighter and less clunky. (Motorola’s Moto 360 watch will bring some much-needed style to the lineup later this summer, but it’s not a panacea for bulky tech.) And while I’m not bothered by the one-day battery life of these watches, they need more convenient ways to recharge overnight, such as a wireless charging mat on your nightstand. Until the hardware and software are further along, saving yourself from your phone should probably wait.

TIME Mobile

Landline Phones Are Getting Closer to Extinction

Technological Waste
Pile of Old Cordless Style Landline Panasonic Telephones and Their Bases Julie Thurston Photography—Moment Editorial/Getty Images

41% of American homes are now wireless-only

It’s not just Millennials anymore—a growing number of older American adults are getting rid of their landlines and going cellphone-only. 41 percent of U.S. households were wireless-only by of the end of 2013, according to new data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Young adults are unsurprisingly the cohort the most likely to live in wireless-only homes, with 66 percent of people between 25 and 29 using cellphones exclusively. Americans between 30 and 34 were the next largest group of cord-cutters, with 60 percent of them living in wireless-only homes. 53% of people between 18 and 24 are now cellphone-only, while 48% of people aged 35 to 44 and 31% of people aged 45 to 64 have made the jump.

Just 14% of adults over 65 have dumped their landlines, though. Overall, more than half of wireless-only adults are now 35 or older, up from 47.6% in the second half of 2010.

People who live at or below the poverty level are also more likely to forego landlines. Fifty-six percent of people in that group live in wireless-only households, while 46% of of people who live near the poverty level and 36% of non-poor people are cellphone-only.

Americans’ growing reliance on cellphones helps explain the increasingly heated battle over consumers among the major wireless carriers. But these devices are hardly even being used in the same way landline phones are. Sixty-three percent of U.S. adults use their phones to go online, according to the Pew Research Center, and cellphone carriers now generate more revenue from data fees than from voice calls.

TIME National Security

Here’s Exactly Why the TSA Is Worried About Your Phone

Signs that danger may be on the rise

Though the TSA recently outlined new security measures on U.S.-bound flights, the agency’s decision to target cell phones raises several questions about the policy’s specificity and effectiveness.

Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones were singled out for extra scrutiny, U.S. officials told Reuters, though Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson does not specifically name the two smartphones in TSA’s official statement. A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official emphasized to TIME that the search will cover a wide range of electronic devices, and the inspection of items will be “not just focused on two manufacturers.”

Aviation and terrorism experts agree that if Apple and Samsung phones will indeed be checked more closely, then that decision is based on specific information gathered by U.S. intelligence.

“Somewhere, somehow, somebody has recovered those devices by those names, which were probably used in the process of developing an explosive that would be detonated by the use of one of those, or [U.S. officials] have first hand intelligence information,” said Glen Winn, an aviation security expert who has handled bomb threats.

R. John Hansman, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, added that most likely “there’s not anything particularly unique about Samsung [Galaxy] or iPhones in terms of their technology.”

TSA has previously expressed fears that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) may be targeting U.S.-bound planes. Suspicions grew in 2010 when two bombs capable of bringing down an airplane were discovered on a U.S.-bound cargo plane. The explosives were to be detonated by cell phone, and also contained parts of mobile phones’ electrical wiring.

The DHS official declined to comment on the specifics of TSA’s decision to ask passengers to turn on cell phones, though experts agree that asking travelers to power up phones will show “if the phone that the person has is in fact a phone,” Winn said.

What is available, however, are TSA’s public reports, which indicate that mobile phone-related seizures at U.S. airports are rare, and that most confiscations are not of improvised explosive devices. So far in 2014 TSA has cited five incidents of “cell phone” confiscation at U.S. international airports, and one incident at a U.S. airport with only domestic flights. Five seizures were stun guns disguised as phones, and one was a phone with a knife hidden inside it. None resemble any of the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy models.

More readily available indicators of rising dangers — for example, TSA’s data regarding discovery of firearms in U.S. carry-on bags — suggest that the number attempted in-air threats may be increasing.

Discovered firearms shot up by 37% from 1,320 in 2011 to 1,813 in 2013, even though TSA’s no-weapon rules have became increasingly publicized, and the intensity of TSA’s carry-on security checks remained mostly stable. (The most salient change, the Precheck Program launched in October 2011, actually relaxed and streamlined security.) As of July 3, 1,033 firearms have already been discovered in 2014.

firearms-us-carryon-bags
Transportation Security Administration

Additionally, 84% of the firearms discovered this year were loaded. Proportions of loaded discovered firearms remain high, ranging from 74% in the first week of 2014, to 95% the week ending on Friday, April 18, with a slight positive trend. The steady increase of firearm discovery questions whether or not TSA’s new policy will deter travelers from attempting to bring explosives on board.

Data also show that since 2010 the number of round-trip flight segments connecting the Middle East, where AQAP is mostly active, and the U.S. has increased. Meanwhile, the total number of international routes scheduled for U.S. airports has decreased to 17,703 in 2013 from 17,943 in 2011.

Flight Routes In/Out of Middle East
Oliver Wyman/PlaneStats.com

Still, though a rise in the risk of cell phone threats is debatable, experts agree that the danger is nonetheless present. “We know that cell phones and electronic devices have been used to set off bombs,” Winn said. “That’s not a mystery. That’s a fact.”

 

 

 

TIME Video Games

PlayStation 4, PC Lead Development in European ‘State of the Industry’ Report

PC and mobile games lead all once again, while Sony's PlayStation 4 is the development platform of choice by a notable margin.

The annual GDC Europe meetup is nearly here — it transpires in Cologne, Germany in early August — and in advance, Game Developers Conference Europe just released a boatload of demographic development information about who’s doing what with PC, mobile and console games looking down the road.

The results come from the UBM Tech Game Network-run show’s second annual European State of the Industry Survey, and indicate — no great surprise here — that PC and mobile remain the platforms of choice across the pond. Mobile edges out PC development slightly, with 65 percent of respondents indicating they’re working on a mobile title versus 58 percent on PC. Those percentages are reportedly higher than last year, which GDC Europe says suggests European developers are more focused on PC and mobile than in North America (again, not surprisingly, given PC gaming’s strong and sustained historical presence in Europe).

Switching to consoles, the survey has the PlayStation 4 leading for the second time consecutively, with 18 percent indicating they were working on PS4 titles (versus 13 percent for Xbox One). Furthermore, 33 percent of respondents expect their next game to be a PS4 project, versus 23 percent for Xbox One.

How many European developers plan to crowdfund their next project? “A startling 41 percent,” says GDC Europe — up from 10 percent currently. This, despite legal barriers in Europe that the group says “makes it trickier to crowdfund.”

And the winner of the annual “best place to build your development empire” poll? Sweden, according to the survey, home to Minecraft, the Battlefield games, Paradox Interactive’s sprawling history-minded strategy titles, and of course, Goat Simulator.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

 

TIME

How Smart Are Your Tweets?

Thirty-three percent of tweets test at a fourth grade reading level. Use the tool to see how yours compare.

Justin Bieber may have celebrated his 20th birthday this spring but on Twitter, he isn’t smarter than a fifth grader. The rebellious Canadian pop star shouldn’t be embarrassed: Lady Gaga is also tweeting at fifth grade level, while President Barack Obama doesn’t score much higher: he tweets like a seventh grader.

According to TIME’s analysis of 1 million public tweets, 33 percent of tweets test at a fourth grade reading level. The test relied upon a commonly used reading comprehension survey known as SMOG, or Simple Measure of Gobbledygook (really), to assess the complexity of messages sent on the social network. “Gobbledygook” is defined as a word of three or more syllables.

Who uses the most gobbledygook? You guessed it: politicians. Search for lawmakers like @NancyPelosi and @SpeakerBoehner to see how they measure up, or use the tool to find the reading level of any public twitter account.

SMOG results show that most tweets require no more than a fourth grade education to comprehend. Of course, a tweet’s limit of 140 characters makes it difficult to compose a message at a higher reading level. But not impossible. This test did pick up a handful of 12th-grade tweets, like this one from a senior curator at the Museum of Modern Art: “Design and violence: Nivedita Menon’s powerful essay on the mini-revolver marketed to women by the Indian government.”

Methodology

Tweets were downloaded with the Twitter API and run through a version of the SMOG test written for JavaScript. A search of a public account returns the 20 most recent tweets from that account. The page considers all of those tweets together as one long paragraph, which leads to higher accuracy than average the score for each tweet.

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