TIME India

In Unpredictable India, Security Services Embrace the Drone Revolution

Members of Sikh community stage a protest demonstration in Jammu against Uttar Pradesh government
Members of the Sikh community shout slogans as they burn tires during a protest in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on July 27, 2014. Jaipal Singh—EPA

South Asia's diverse topography, chaotic overpopulation and vast, unplanned cities make drones especially useful

Late last month, a land dispute in Saharanpur, in north India’s Uttar Pradesh state, snowballed into a riot between the local Sikh and Muslim communities, leaving three people dead and injuring over a dozen. Sadly, such clashes are nothing new in this highly polarized state of 200 million. Just last year, communal violence in nearby Muzaffarnagar district claimed 62 lives.

Nevertheless, there was something novel about how this latest bout of violence was addressed. The state’s police called upon a young entrepreneur to help monitor and advise security operations using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more popularly known as drones.

Within hours, drone cameras were up and running in Saharanpur town, keeping close tabs on the volatile and unfolding situation, even in areas security personnel couldn’t reach by car or foot. This helped direct resources to where they were needed most.

“Some of the roads and streets in Saharanpur — and this is pretty typical of most Indian towns — are so narrow that the forces cannot enter there,” says Ankit Mehta, co-founder and CEO of IdeaForge, which manufactures UAVs in India. “But a drone-assisted camera can easily fly in and monitor the situation for the cops.”

In India, drone entrepreneurs like Mehta have been quick to realize that the nation’s diverse topography, chaotic overpopulation and vast, unplanned cities severely hobble traditional security operations, making airborne technology particularly advantageous.

Drones are now being used for monitoring large public gatherings — such as Ramadan processions in Lucknow, also in Uttar Pradesh, where sectarian clashes last year claimed three lives — which frequently spiral out of control due to large, unwieldy crowds. (India regularly suffers stampede-related tragedies.)

More conventionally, drones have also been used in disaster management. Last year, they played a low-key but invaluable role in relief operations in Uttarakhand, a hilly and inhospitable terrain where flash floods killed thousands and displaced many more.

Another Mumbai-based drone company called Airpix partnered with NGOs to carry out aerial surveillance of the flood-hit areas for rebuilding purposes, better planning and enhanced communications. Airpix also helps the Mumbai police monitor major gatherings including Ganesh Chaturthi, an Indian festival that culminates with hundreds of thousands of devotees ferrying idols to be immersed in the sea, creating traffic gridlock all over the city.

But despite a bevy of humanitarian and public-safety work, the image of drones as instruments of war remains hard to shake off. “The misconception that drones are meant more for destructive purposes seems to still linger around,” says Shinil Shekar, head of sales and marketing at Airpix. “And it is important that people be more educated about their potential civilian applications.”

Even so, India is tipped to be “booming” for micro and mini-unmanned aerial vehicles for both civilian and military use by the U.S.-based Advanced Defense Technologies Inc., which calls the market a “multimillion-dollar business that will grow steadily.”

Certainly, Mehta is confident about the future; IdeaForge currently boasts an annual turnover in excess of $1 million, and Mehta expects this to increase by five or six times this year. “It is a scalable opportunity for indigenous entrepreneurs,” he says.

TIME Security

Russian Crime Ring Said to Steal More Than a Billion Internet Passwords

It's the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials, according to a New York Times report

A ring of Russian criminals has acquired 1.2 billion username and password combinations, as well as credentials for more than 500 million email addresses, amassing the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials.

Cybersecurity firm Hold Security discovered that the group gathered confidential material from 420,000 websites, including household names and small Internet sites, the firm said in a blog post. The crime ring, based in a small city in south central Russia, hacked websites inside Russia as well as major Fortune 500 companies abroad, the New York Times reports.

An independent security expert analyzed the database of stolen credentials at the request of the Times and confirmed Hold Security’s claims were authentic.

The Russian crime ring found hundreds of thousands of vulnerable websites and attacked their coding to steal credentials from their databases, Hold Security said.

“[The] hackers did not just target U.S. companies, they targeted any website they could get, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to very small websites,” Alex Holden, the chief information security officer of Hold Security told the Times. “And most of these sites are still vulnerable.”

The criminals have been using the stolen information to send spam on social networks like Twitter, collecting fees for their work. However, it has yet to sell many of the records on the potentially lucrative black market.

TIME China

A Smartphone Maker Called ‘Little Rice’ Has Big Plans

Xiaomi Samsung China Sales
Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun speaks during a product launch on May 15, 2014 in Beijing, China. ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

For the first time in years, the biggest player in China's smartphone market is homegrown

“Little rice.” That’s the literal translation for Chinese electronics company Xiaomi, but its humble name hasn’t stopped it from conquering the Chinese smartphone market. And now it’s looking abroad, too.

Analysts say it’s precisely Xiaomi’s modesty that’s allowed it to dethrone Samsung and log the highest smartphone sales volume in the world’s biggest market this past quarter. A three-year-old firm known for its affordable prices and affable branding, Xiaomi shipped about 15 million units compared to Samsung’s 13.2 million in the second quarter this year, according to a report by Canalys.

“Samsung had been the leading vendor in China for the last two-and-a-half years, but [Xiaomi’s strong performance] comes in the context that Samsung has had an uncharacteristically weak performance,” Tom Shepherd, senior analyst at Canalys, told TIME, noting that the firm plans to adjust inventory after its 3G products had underwhelming sales. “We expect a sort of rally in terms of [Samsung’s third quarter] performance, but will that performance be sufficient to reestablish a leadership position over Xiaomi?”

But analysts are skeptical that Xiaomi will loosen its newfound grip on China’s smartphone market. Its sales overshadowed Apple’s a year ago, and the homegrown firm is on track for 60 million shipments in global smartphone sales this year, more than three times last year’s figure of 18.7 million, according to Linda Sui, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics. Estimates of the two manufacturers’ shipments in China suggest that “little rice” is reaping the harvest of its land:

Xiaomi Samsung Quarterly Shipments in China
Data from Canalys

“The two vendors are neck to neck,” Sui told TIME. “I think Samsung now feels much pain in low-tier and mid-tier markets in China. For low-tier and mid-tier markets, pricing is still the key factor in determining people’s purchasing behavior in China.”

Affordability has indeed been Xiaomi’s allure—Xiaomi’s most popular smartphones retail at half the price of most iPhones in China—but analysts believe the real cause of Xiaomi’s explosive growth is its localized and personalized features, the opposite of what’s made global brands like Samsung so successful. Unlike Samsung, Xiaomi has strategically sold 4G products while China Mobile pushes its 4G services; it has its own pre-installed Chinese app store, since Google Play is heavily censored; it boasts its user interface customization software unavailable on Samsung’s phones; and all phones arrive with pre-installed local business directories. With Xiaomi, “made in China” might not be so bad.

“We see that phrase evolving within China to the phrase ‘made for China,'” Jeff Orr, Senior Practice Director for Mobile Devices at ABI Research, told TIME. “‘Made in China’ is going to mean something, something people will take pride in within China. That’s going to be an increasing challenge for multinational brands like Samsung that are importing products.”

But Xiaomi’s secret to success is a double-edged sword: analysts say achieving that same degree of localization will be necessary if Xiaomi wants a future beyond its home country, which Sui said is “very well covered” by Xiaomi, as it has penetrated both rural areas and cities. On the other hand, only about 100,000 of Xiaomi’s global smartphone units, less than 1%, were shipped outside China during the second quarter, according to data from Canalys. Its recent launch of its Mi 3 model in India, though, is a big encouragement: Xiaomi has already scored 100,000 pre-orders for only 10,000 units. Analysts expect the firm’s hit list will include several emerging markets in the Asia-Pacific region and also in European countries like Russia, where global brands like Apple don’t have a strong presence.

There’s one place, though, where analysts say “little rice” won’t grow: America. While Xiaomi nabbed an American Android executive last year, prompting speculation over a possible U.S. entry, sustained controversy over Xiaomi’s intellectual property infringements on U.S. companies and the sheer saturation of the American smartphone market are casting doubt on Xiaomi’s future in the U.S.

TIME Video Games

Ubisoft Confirms That Other Assassin’s Creed Game Exists With a Trailer

Assassin's Creed Rogue takes place in the frigid North Atlantic during the mid-18th century, starring you as a rogue assassin who's turned his back on the brotherhood.

All the hubbub about a second Assassin’s Creed game for the older PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 that might complement Assassin’s Creed Unity for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One finally turned up some answers: Ubisoft just confirmed Assassin’s Creed Rogue exists, and it’s headed exclusively to PS3 and Xbox 360 this year on November 11.

In the game, you play as Shay Patrick Cormac, who — if my ears haven’t failed me listening to that accent in the trailer — is Irish or Irish-American. He’s also a former assassin-turned-templar (perhaps that shift occurs ruing the game, perhaps not, it isn’t clear yet), hunting “those [he] previously called brothers from the streets of New York City to the frozen and fractured glacial landscapes of the Arctic Circle.”

Teasing motivational enigmas and plot twists, Ubisoft asks “Is Shay a traitor, rebel, renegade or something else entirely?” We’ll see.

The game transpires during the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763) in the ice-riddled North Atlantic, the river valleys of the Northeast and a re-imagined version of New York. It’s thus occurring parallel to (though mostly before) the events in Assassin’s Creed 3, which took place between 1753 and 1783, and focused on the American Revolution. Assassin’s Creed 4 bumped the clock back to the early part of the 18th century and involved the father of one of the protagonists of the prior game, and so Assassin’s Creed Rogue will serve as a bridge between the two, but also as a kind of secondary precursor, event-wise, to Assassin’s Creed Unity, which takes place in France around the French Revolution and arrives October 28.

Ubisoft describes Shady as “an all-new type of Assassin in the throes of a dark transformation,” so that could prove interesting, and it’s probably necessary given the potential for assassin-play burnout with two arterial installments arriving at once (oh who am I kidding — the potential for overall franchise burnout raised by the series formally bifurcating, presumably driven by Ubisoft’s fiscal demands, just went way up, though to be fair, Ubisoft has yet to really drop the ball with a mainline Assassin’s Creed game).

You can use new weapons like an air rifle with different types of ammunition, as well as grenades that “can be used to distract, eliminate, or confuse enemies” (where were these when Napoleon needed them?). And the sailing game, so popular in Assassin’s Creed 3 that Ubisoft made it the crux of Assassin’s Creed 4‘s gameplay, is back, this time set in a version of the North Atlantic that includes “new enemy tactics, exotic new weapons, and an arctic world full of icebergs and other dangers.”

If you want to read more, Assassin’s Creed Rogue is Game Informer‘s cover story this month.

TIME space

SpaceX Is Building a New Launch Site In Texas

The next launch site for billionaire Elon Musk's space company will be built in one of the poorest cities in America

Texas Governor Rick Perry announced Monday that private space company SpaceX will build the first-ever exclusively commercial launch site near Brownsville, Texas. SpaceX, owned and operated by PayPal billionaire Elon Musk, received a $2.3 million investment from the state to build its site in Texas.

Brownsville has a median income of $30,000, and nearly 40% of Brownsville’s population lives below the poverty line — the highest percentage in the country. Perry said in his announcement that the SpaceX site will bring 300 new jobs and inject $85 million into the local economy.

TIME animals

Why New Yorkers Are Getting Matched With Dogs on Tinder

Swipe right to adopt

Posing with a puppy to prove your humanity is a Tinder trope as old as, well, Tinder. But starting last week, New Yorkers found themselves swiping right with literal dogs. Like, the four legged kind, not the kind that sends you lots of suggestive eggplant emojis.

East Village no-kill shelter Social Tees Animal Rescue teamed up with The Barn at ad agency BBH to push pet adoption … via a dating app.

Since Tinder requires a Facebook account for entry into its vortex of swiping, Social Tees set up ten separate Facebook pages for various abandoned puppies looking for a home. Bios ranged from typical exhortations of “Single and ready to mingle!” to the less subtle: “Roses are grey, Violets are grey, and everything is grey because I’m a dog.”

The adoption initiative began July 31, and Social Tees told TIME that its staff had individually approved all potential matches. There were 2,500 matches as of Monday, and people are encouraged to foster a dog for two weeks or to adopt one permanently.

This isn’t the first time shelters have targeted lonely singles on dating sites. The ASPCA put targeted ads on OKCupid in February, right in time for Valentine’s Day, in a pro-bono promotion that resulted in 6 dog and 35 cat adoptions over the course of a weekend.

TIME Telecom

Verizon: Slowing Data Speeds for Some Users Is Necessary

Verizon Defends Throttling Policy After FCC Letter
Pedestrians walk past a Verizon Wireless store in New York, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. Bloomberg via Getty Images

Verizon is defending itself after the FCC criticized its "throttling" policy

Verizon has defended its policy of slowing data speeds for some users after receiving stinging criticism from the Federal Communications Commission.

After receiving a letter from the FCC condemning the policy last week, the telecom company said slowing speeds—known as “throttling”—for heavy users of unlimited data plans during high traffic periods is necessary to ensure network quality, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The FCC’s letter followed Verizon’s July 25 announcement that under its “network optimization policy,” customers with 4G LTE devices on unlimited data plans who are in the top 5 percent of data users “may experience slower data speeds when using certain high bandwidth applications.”

“It is disturbing to me that Verizon Wireless would base its ‘network management’ on distinctions among its customers’ data plans, rather than on network architecture or technology,” wrote FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. “I know of no past Commission statement that would treat as ‘reasonable network management’ a decision to slow traffic to a user who has paid, after all, for ‘unlimited’ service.”

But Verizon, whose CEO Daniel Mead was “very surprised” to receive the FCC’s letter, was unapologetic in its reply to the FCC’s request that it explain its rationale behind throttling. Part of the FCC’s criticism suggested that throttling may be incentivizing customers to move to usage-based plans that would ultimately benefit Verizon. Verizon, however, disagrees.

“Unlike subscribers on usage-based plans, [heavy users on unlimited data plans] have no incentive not to do so during times of unusually high demand,” Kathleen Grillo, senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs at Verizon, said in the letter. “Rather than an effort to ‘enhance [our] revenue streams,’ our practice is a measured and fair step to ensure that this small group of customers do not disadvantage all others in the sharing of network resources.”

Verizon’s throttling policy dates back to 2011, when heavy data users’ speeds on the telecom’s 3G network were slowed to ensure equal access to network resources—a policy that’s “been widely accepted with little or no controversy,” Grillo wrote.

The practice of throttling has raised questions about what it means to subscribe to an “unlimited” data plan. AT&T also throttles speeds for some users grandfathered into its now-discontinued unlimited data plans, and in 2012, AT&T settled a lawsuit from a user upset about his slowed data speeds despite paying for uncapped data usage. Even former FCC Chairman Michael Powell has suggested limiting data speeds isn’t actually about network optimization, saying data caps on usage-based plans—increasingly common as wireless carriers slash unlimited plans—are instead about fairness among users and “how to fairly monetize a high fixed cost.”

TIME Television

Dish Just Signed a Deal To Bring More TV to the Internet

Ride Along With During A Dish Network Installation Amidst A Pay-TV Merger Speculation
Justin Preziosi, field service specialist for Dish Network Corp., installs a satellite television system at a residence in Denver, Colorado, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The deal brings Dish a step closer to making its streaming TV service a reality

In the race to deliver traditional television via the Internet, Dish Network has just reeled in another major entertainment company for its upcoming streaming service. The satellite TV provider announced Tuesday that it has secured the rights to deliver content from A&E Networks “over-the-top,” or via the Internet, rather than through cable or satellite service.

A&E Networks owns several well-known television channels, including A&E, Lifetime and The History Channel, among others.

The new pact follows a deal Dish signed with Disney earlier this year to get over-the-top rights to five of the entertainment giant’s channels, including ABC and ESPN. Dish has said it plans to launch an Internet-based TV service later this year that bundles about 20 to 30 channels together for between $20 and $30 a month. The offering will be aimed at adults aged 18 to 35, a cohort that is less likely to subscribe to traditional cable and satellite services than older consumers.

Many companies have tried and failed to deliver an over-the-top TV service that mimics traditional TV. Such a service could potentially be highly disruptive to the pay-TV industry, since it could be offered nationwide and introduce new competition in areas that have only a single cable provider. Intel abandoned plans to launch such a service, while a long-rumored Apple service has faced numerous reported delays. Other tech companies, like Sony and Verizon, have announced similar services, but have not publicly disclosed deals like the Dish-A&E arrangement. As the company in the space with the largest number of traditional pay-TV subscribers — 14 million — Dish may be best positioned to work out the necessary deals with networks to get their live content online once and for all.

 

TIME Video Games

Google Removes ‘Bomb Gaza’ Game From Play Store

Google Play

The company has removed several other games related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent days, claiming they violate the the Google Play store's policies.

In Bomb Gaza, a game about doing precisely what its peremptory title commands, you play as the Israeli Air Force, tapping a touchscreen to pour red-nosed bombs into a 2D multi-level landscape filled with cartoonish people wearing white robes and clutching children — meant to signify civilians — as well as others draped in black, clutching rifles, touting greenish headbands and grinning maniacally. The goal is to hit those black-garbed militants — presumably members of Palestinian militant group Hamas — while avoiding the white-clad civilians.

At some point in the past 24 hours, Google removed Bomb Gaza from its Android Play store (the game was released on July 29). It’s not clear why. Google’s only officially saying what companies like it so often say when handed political hot potatoes: that it doesn’t comment on specific apps, but that it removes ones from its store that violate its policies. The game’s dismissal comes just as Israel says it’s pulling out of Gaza in observance of a three-day ceasefire, on the heels of a month-long fight that has to date left nearly 1,900 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 67 Israelis (mostly soldiers) dead.

It’s unclear which of Google’s policies Bomb Gaza might have infringed, but in Google’s Developer Program Policies document, it notes under a subsection titled Violence and Bullying that “Depictions of gratuitous violence are not allowed,” and that “Apps should not contain materials that threaten, harass or bully other users.” Under another titled Hate Speech, Google writes “We don’t allow content advocating against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity.”

Bomb Gaza isn’t the only Gaza-centric game Google’s removed: another, dubbed Gaza Assault: Code Red is about dropping bombs on Palestinians using Israeli drones. Its designers describe the game as “[bringing] you to the forefront of the middle-east conflict, in correlation to ongoing real world events.” It was also just yanked, as was another titled Whack the Hamas, in which players have to target Hamas members as they pop out of tunnels.

Politically-themed games about touchy current issues have been around for years, from depictions of deadly international situations like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to others modeled on flashpoints like school shootings. In late 2008, a game called Raid Gaza! appeared around the time Israel was carrying out “Operation Cast Lead,” a conflict that left 13 Israelis and some 1,400 Palestinians dead. In that title, you’re tasked with killing as many Palestinians as you can in three minutes, and actually afforded bonuses for hitting civilian targets, all while listening to a version of the Carpenter’s saccharine “Close to You.”

But the game wasn’t merely a pro-Israeli celebration of violence against Palestinians, it was a pointed editorial reflection on the horrors of the Gaza conflict. As games critic Ian Bogost wrote at the time:

The game is headstrong, suffering somewhat from its one-sided treatment of the issue at hand. But as an editorial, it is a fairly effective one both as opinion text and as game. It is playable and requires strategy, the exercise of which carries the payload of commentary.

Other games about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persist: There’s Peacemaker, a more serious and simulation-angled game about the conflict that its developers say was designed “to promote peace.” Another, called Iron Dome (still available on Google’s Play store), lets players intercept incoming rockets using Israel’s eponymous missile defense system. A third, called Rocket Pride (also still available on Google’s Play store), lets players provide “support for the besieged Gaza Strip” by firing rockets at targets in Israel. There’s clearly a winnowing process here, in other words, with Google favoring some apps but not others. It’s just not clear what that process is.

I haven’t played Bomb Gaza, so I can’t speak to its efficacy as either a game or an editorial commentary (or whether it was even intended as the latter). When I reached out to the game’s creator, he told me it had been “developed without any budget” and “more for fun,” and that he was “very surprised to catch such attention with it.”

But the game’s removal raises older questions that we need to keep asking: Should companies like Google remove politically charged games because passerby find them offensive? Are we overreacting to some of these games instead of taking the time to consider whether they’re intended as satirical (be it nuanced or crude, successful or misguided)? Are games that depict violence related to a current event fundamentally so different from caustic political cartoons or scathing op-eds? And should companies like Apple and Google and Amazon — and thereby the swiftly narrowing channels through which we’re acquiring more and more of our content — also be the arbiters of what’s morally tasteful?

TIME apps

Author Goes on Epic Twitter Rant After Kid ‘Accidentally’ Spent $120 on Kardashian Game

"I'm now funding Kim Kardashian's lip gloss"

Kim Kardashian is no friend to 11-year-old Abe Chabon, whose mother said he “accidentally” contributed $120 in two days to the celebrity mogul’s expected end-of-year $200 million paycheck for her “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” game.

Things got a little tense when Abe’s mother Ayelet Waldman, acclaimed author of bestseller Bad Mother and wife to fellow novelist Michael Chabon, found out that her kid had been making real life payments for in-game perks. Like small pets and Miami mansions to up celebrity clout. (Payment options for “koins” range from $4.99 to $99.99).

And so began a Twitter tirade against the “scumbag” Kardashians.

Waldman claims that even though a credit card was attached to the iTunes accounts, she had been under the impression it was capped to $20 a week.

This is hardly a new problem. In March 2013, two British parents had to petition Apple to refund the £980 ($1,652!) bill their son ran up buying virtual donuts on his “Simpsons: Tapped Out” iPad game. In fact, a January FTC settlement left Apple paying $32.5 million to parents whose children bought apps and in-app purchases without their consent. The ominously titled ‘Tiny Zoo Friends” game was allegedly inspiring purchases of more than $5o0.

Luckily for Waldman, she says Apple ended up refunding her son’s purchases one-by-one. And lessons were learned all around. The parents have cut off credit cards from the iTunes store. And as for Abe:

(h/t: Cosmo)

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