ACLU Sues TSA Over Electronic Device Searches ( 115

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration over its alleged practices of searching the electronic devices of passengers traveling on domestic flights. "The federal government's policies on searching the phones, laptops, and tablets of domestic air passengers remain shrouded in secrecy," ACLU Foundation of Northern California attorney Vasudha Talla said in a blog post. "TSA is searching the electronic devices of domestic passengers, but without offering any reason for the search," Talla added. "We don't know why the government is singling out some passengers, and we don't know what exactly TSA is searching on the devices. Our phones and laptops contain very personal information, and the federal government should not be digging through our digital data without a warrant." TechCrunch reports: The lawsuit, which is directed toward the TSA field offices in San Francisco and its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, specifically asks the TSA to hand over records related to its policies, procedures and/or protocols pertaining to the search of electronic devices. This lawsuit comes after a number of reports came in pertaining to the searches of electronic devices of passengers traveling domestically. The ACLU also wants to know what equipment the TSA uses to search, examine and extract any data from passengers' devices, as well as what kind of training TSA officers receive around screening and searching the devices. The ACLU says it first filed FOIA requests back in December, but TSA "subsequently improperly withheld the requested records," the ACLU wrote in a blog post today.

Tesla Raises Prices At Its Supercharger Stations 166

Tesla is increasing the cost of the paid Supercharger access, but a spokesperson for the company says that it "will never be a profit center." Electrek reports: When introducing the program, Tesla said that it aimed to still make the cost of Supercharging cheaper than gasoline and that it doesn't aim to make its Supercharger network a profit center. Instead, they want to use the money to keep growing the network which now consists of over 1,180 stations and close to 9,000 Superchargers. But this week, the rates were updated across the U.S. Some states saw massive increases of as much as 100 percent -- though most regions saw their rates increase by 20 to 40 percent. For example, Oregon saw an increase of $0.12 to $0.24 per kWh, while California, Tesla's biggest market in the U.S., got an increase from $0.20 to $0.26 kWh and New York's rate went from $0.19 to $0.24 per kWh. A spokesperson for Tesla said in a statement: "We occasionally adjust rates to reflect current local electricity and usage. The overriding principle is that Supercharging will always remain significantly cheaper than gasoline, as we only aim to recover a portion of our costs while setting up a fair system for everyone. This will never be a profit center for Tesla."

Coming Soon to a Front Porch Near You: Package Delivery Via Drone ( 110

After lagging behind other countries for years, commercial drones in the U.S. are expected to begin limited package deliveries within months, according to federal regulators and industry officials. [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; an alternative source was not immediately available] From a report: The momentum partly stems from stepped-up White House pressure, prompting closer cooperation between the government and companies such as seeking authorizations for such fledgling businesses. The upshot, according to these officials, is newfound confidence by both sides that domestic package-delivery services finally appear on the verge of taking off. Earlier promises of progress turned out to be premature. The green light could be delayed again if proponents can't overcome nagging security concerns on the part of local or national law-enforcement agencies. Proposed projects also may end up stymied if Federal Aviation Administration managers don't find creative ways around legislative and regulatory restrictions such as those mandating pilot training for manned aircraft. But some proponents of delivery and other drone applications "think they might be ready to operate this summer," Jay Merkle, a senior FAA air-traffic control official, said during a break at an unmanned-aircraft conference in Baltimore last week that highlighted the agency's pro-business approach.

SXSW: No 'Hot Apps' Anymore But Still a Launchpad For Some Startups ( 28

South by Southwest is no longer the preferred launchpad for social apps, but it may be for others like Blue Duck, a San Antonio-based transportation company debuting its scooter service this weekend. From a report: Between Twitter's big breakout moment in 2007 and Meerkat's in 2015, SXSW has served as a great marketing opportunity for social apps. But that's ended as consumer trends have shifted and Hollywood and other consumer companies have taken over the festival. Standing outside the Austin Convention Center, co-founder Eric Bell tells me that he came up with the idea out of frustration with his local public transit, and he designed the scooters. For now, the company is self-funded, but he expects to soon raise outside funding.

Elon Musk Changes 'Boring Company' Vision To Reward Cyclists and Pedestrians ( 152

"Remember Elon Musk's plan to dig a massive web of traffic-beating tunnels underneath Los Angeles...?" asks CNN. "Now, that plan appears to be getting a huge makeover." An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: While it will still focus on digging tunnels to provide a network of underground tubes suitable for use by high-speed Hyperloop pods, the plan now is to use that Hyperloop to transport pedestrians and cyclists first, and then only later to work on moving cars around underground to bypass traffic. Musk shared the update via Twitter, noting that the idea would be to load customers onto cars roughly the size that a single parking space takes up currently, [thousands of which] would be dotted around an urban environment close to any destinations where someone might travel. The single-car station model would be designed to replace the current subway-style model, Musk said, where only a few small stations are very spread out... This is a big departure from the original vision, and it seems like one that might have evolved after Musk and his collaborators on the project spoke to urban planners and transit authorities.
"If someone can't afford a car, they should go first," Musk posted on Twitter, sharing a new conceptual video where an elevator lowers one of these pedestrian- and cyclist-focussed shuttle pods underground.

TechCrunch says this new vision "would be appealing both to urban officials looking to decrease congestion on downtown roads and discourage personal vehicle use, and to anyone hoping to increase access to affordable transit options."

California Bullet Train Costs Soar To $77.3 Billion, Will Take 5 Years Longer To Complete 269

The California High-Speed Rail Authority announced today that the cost of connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco would total $77.3 billion, an increase of $13 billion from estimates two years ago, and could potentially rise as high as $98.1 billion. They also said the earliest trains could operate on a partial system between San Jose and the farming town of Wasco would be 2029, five years later than the previous projection. Los Angeles Times reports: The disclosures are contained in a 114-page business plan that was issued in draft form by the rail authority and will be finalized this summer in a submission to the Legislature. The rail authority has wrestled with a more than $40-billion funding gap, which would increase sharply under the new cost estimates. The biggest immediate driver of the cost increase has been in the Central Valley, where the rail authority is building 119 miles of track between Wasco and Merced. The authority disclosed in early February that the cost of that work would jump to $10.6 billion from an original estimate of about $6 billion. Roy Hill, one of the senior consultants advising the state, told the rail authority board, "The worst-case scenario has happened." In its 2014 business plan, the rail authority optimistically projected that it could begin carrying passengers in just seven years. But the warning signs of uncontrolled cost growth had already started mounting then, even though until this year the rail authority has vehemently denied that it was facing a problem. The project began having trouble buying property for the route almost immediately after it issued its first construction contract in 2013.

Elon Musk Sides With Trump On Trade With China, Citing 25 Percent Import Duty On American Cars ( 331

Elon Musk believes China isn't playing fair in the car trade with the U.S. since it puts a 25 percent import duty on American cars, while the U.S. only does 2.5 percent for Chinese cars. "I am against import duties in general, but the current rules make things very difficult," Musk tweeted. "It's like competing in an Olympic race wearing lead shoes." CNBC reports: Tesla's Elon Musk is complaining to President Donald Trump about China's car tariffs. "Do you think the US & China should have equal & fair rules for cars? Meaning, same import duties, ownership constraints & other factors," Musk said on Twitter in response to a Trump tweet about trade with China. He added that no American car company is "allowed to own even 50% of their own factory" in the Asian country, but China's auto firms can own their companies in the U.S. Trump responded to Musk's tweets later at his steel and aluminum tariff press conference Thursday. "We are going to be doing a reciprocal tax program at some point, so that if China is going to charge us 25% or if India is going to charge us 75% and we charge them nothing ... We're going to be at those same numbers. It's called reciprocal, a mirror tax," Trump said after reading Musk's earlier tweets out loud.

Bay Area Cities Consider Rideshare Tax On Uber, Lyft ( 92

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A local city council member is beginning to float the idea of taxing ridehailing companies like Uber and Lyft as a possible way to raise millions of dollars and help pay for local public transportation and infrastructure improvements. If the effort is successful, Oakland could become the first city in California -- Uber and Lyft's home state -- to impose such a tax. However, it's not clear whether Oakland or any other city in the Golden State has the authority to do so under current state rules. Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan told the East Bay Express that she wants the city council to put forward a ballot measure that would tax such rides. A similar proposal in nearby San Francisco, projecting a fee of $0.20 to $1 per ride, would allow the city to collect an estimated $12.5 to $62.5 million annually. However, an October 2017 city analysis noted that San Francisco "cannot initiate locally without state authorizing legislation" and that the fee "may disproportionately impact lower-income households."
United States

What Airbnb Did To New York City ( 340

An anonymous reader shares a report: There are two kinds of horror stories about Airbnb. When the home-sharing platform first appeared, the initial cautionary tales tended to emphasize extreme guest (and occasionally host) misbehavior. But as the now decade-old service matured and the number of rental properties proliferated dramatically, a second genre emerged, one that focused on what the service was doing to the larger community: Airbnb was raising rents and taking housing off the rental market. It was supercharging gentrification while discriminating against guests and hosts of color. And as commercial operators took over, it was transforming from a way to help homeowners occasionally rent out an extra room into a purveyor of creepy, makeshift hotels.

Several studies have looked into these claims; some focused on just one issue at a time, or measured Airbnb-linked trends across wide swaths of the country. But a recent report by David Wachsmuth, a professor of Urban Planning at McGill University, zeroes in on New York City in an effort to answer the question of exactly what home sharing is doing to the city. [...] Their conclusion: Most of those rumors are true. Wachsmuth found reason to believe that Airbnb has indeed raised rents, removed housing from the rental market, and fueled gentrification -- at least in New York City. "


Self-Driving Cars Are Being Attacked By Angry Californians ( 351

According to incident reports collected by the California department of motor vehicles, some Californians are purposely colliding with self-driving cars. The Guardian reports: On January 10, a pedestrian in San Francisco's Mission District ran across the street to confront a GM Cruise autonomous vehicle that was waiting for people to cross the road, according to an incident report filed by the car company. The pedestrian was "shouting," the report states, and "struck the left side of the Cruise AV's rear bumper and hatch with his entire body." No injuries occurred, but the car's left tail light was damaged. In a separate incident just a few blocks away on January 28, a taxi driver in San Francisco got out of his car, approached a GM Cruise autonomous vehicle and "slapped the front passenger window, causing a scratch." The police were not called in either case.

Mercedes' Futuristic Headlights Shine Warning Symbols On the Road ( 139

In its new high-end vehicles, Daimler says it will introduce programmable, "million-pixel" headlights that project warning symbols and driving tips on the road. "The technology, which Daimler calls Digital Light, was demoed as a concept ten years ago, but at the Geneva Motor Show it's finally being introduced as a feature that's 'expected' to be available on certain Mercedes-Maybach S-Class vehicles sometime this year," reports Gizmodo. From the report: Sitting alongside the vehicle's standard headlights are a pair of small monochrome projectors that each feature "a resolution of over one million pixels," Daimler claims, resulting in an "HD-quality" image being projected onto the road surface ahead of the vehicle. Using data from the car's onboard sensors, as well as traffic and obstacle data that GPS devices rely on, the headlights project symbols like a snowflake indicating slippery conditions ahead, a construction symbol reminding drivers to slow down for road workers, arrows for where to turn, and even simple white lines representing the size of your vehicle so you can immediately tell if you're able to squeeze into a narrow parking spot. The ability to selectively switch off pixels means the S-Class' headlights could help drivers avoid blinding oncoming vehicles or pedestrians, as onboard sensors detect faces and windshields and automatically dim the brightness in those areas.

Uber Self-Driving Trucks Are Now Moving Cargo For Uber Freight Customers ( 52

Uber's autonomous trucks are now being put to work via Uber Freight, Uber's commercial cargo shipping on-demand app. "The first runs are being done in Arizona, with regular hauls operating with both human drivers and autonomous trucks working in tandem," reports TechCrunch. From the report: How it works is that Uber will load up the freight on a conventional, human driven truck who collects the load from the shipper and then does a short haul run to a transfer hub. The short haul truck then loads its cargo onto a long-haul freight transport, which is autonomous for the purposes of these trips. That self-driving test truck handles the highway driving for the longer portion of the trip, handing it off once again to a human-driven trip for the short haul cap to the overall journey. Uber Freight handles the load sourcing, just as it dos for connecting shippers with regular human truckers. Uber's Advanced Technology Group is simply deploying its self-driving trucks on the Uber Freight platform, in the same way that the autonomous team within Uber is using the Uber ride-hailing network to test and deploy its self-driving ride share vehicles. Uber has released a video depicting this journey.

Researcher Admits Study That Claimed Uber Drivers Earn $3.37 An Hour Was Not Correct ( 101

Last week, an MIT study using data from more than 1,100 Uber and Lyft drivers concluded they're earning a median pretax profit of just $3.37 per hour. Uber was less than pleased by their findings and used a blog post to highlight problems with the researchers' methodology. "Now the lead researcher behind the draft paper has admitted that Uber's criticism was actually pretty valid -- while also asking Uber and Lyft to make more data available, in order to improve his analysis," reports Fortune. From the report: The issue with the draft paper from MIT's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR), Uber's chief economist Jonathan Hall said, was this: The researchers asked drivers how much money they made on average each week from such services, but then asked "How much of your total monthly income comes from driving" -- without specifying that such income must relate to on-demand services. Of course, many people driving for Uber and Lyft also earn money from regular jobs and other income sources. And this, Hall alleged, skewed the researchers' results.

"Hall's specific criticism is valid," wrote Stephen Zoepf, the executive director of Stanford's Center for Automotive Research, who led the MIT study, on Monday. "In re-reading the wording of the two questions, I can see how respondents could have interpreted the two questions in the manner Hall describes." Zoepf said he would be updating the CEEPR paper, but in the meantime he recalculated the figures using a methodology suggested by Hall, and found that the median profit was $8.55 per hour, rather than $3.37, and only 8% of drivers lose money on on-demand platforms. Using another methodology, he added, the median rises to $10 per hour and only 4% of drivers lose money.


Uber Spent $10.7 Billion in Nine Years. Does It Have Enough to Show for It? ( 91

An anonymous reader shares a report: What makes Uber Technologies the most valuable venture-backed technology company in the world? Investors say size and growth. The business is transforming global transportation networks. On closer inspection of its financial performance, Uber also pioneered a very expensive way of establishing a market and staying on top. Uber has had little trouble finding investors eager to buy into its vision. It relishes telling backers about gross bookings, or the amount riders pay for service. That number is enormous, totaling $37 billion last year. But most of that goes to drivers. Uber's cut, or net revenue, came to $7.4 billion. Compared to public companies with similar valuations, Uber's revenue lags well behind. At the same time, Uber has worked to downplay its persistent losses. Because the company doesn't disclose financial results with much consistency, it's easy to lose sight of how much of investors' money Uber has spent. Since its founding nine years ago, Uber has burned through about $10.7 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter. Over the past decade, only one public technology company in North America lost more in a year than Uber lost in 2017. None has burned such a tremendous amount in the first stage of its life, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

One Single Malicious Vehicle Can Block 'Smart' Street Intersections In the US ( 98

An anonymous reader shares a BleepingComputer report: Academics from the University of Michigan have shown that one single malicious car could trick US-based smart traffic control systems into believing an intersection is full and force the traffic control algorithm to alter its normal behavior, and indirectly cause traffic slowdowns and even block street intersections. The team's research focused on Connected Vehicle (CV) technology, which is currently being included in all cars manufactured across the globe. More precisely, it targets V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure) protocols, and more precisely the I-SIG system implemented in the US.

The Michigan research team says the I-SIG system in its current default configuration is vulnerable to basic data spoofing attacks. Researchers say this is "due to a vulnerability at the signal control algorithm level," which they call "the last vehicle advantage." This means that the latest arriving vehicle can determine the traffic system's algorithm output. The research team says I-SIG doesn't come with protection from spoofing attacks, allowing one vehicle to send repeated messages to a traffic intersection, posing as the latest vehicle that arrived at the intersection. According to simulated traffic models, the Michigan team says that around a fifth of all cars that entered a test intersection took seven minutes to traverse the traffic junction that would have normally taken only half a minute. Researchers don't believe this bug could be exploited for actual gains in the real world, but the bugs' existence shows the protocol is poorly coded, even four years after first being proved unsecured.


MoviePass CEO Proudly Says App Tracks Your Location Before, After Movies ( 166

MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe told an audience at a Hollywood event last Friday that the app tracks moviegoers' locations before and after each show they watch. "We get an enormous amount of information," Lowe said. "We watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards." His talk at the Entertainment Finance Forum was entitled "Data is the New Oil: How will MoviePass Monetize It?" TechCrunch reports: It's no secret that MoviePass is planning on making hay out of the data collected through its service. But what I imagined, and what I think most people imagined, was that it would be interesting next-generation data about ticket sales, movie browsing, A/B testing on promotions in the app and so on. I didn't imagine that the app would be tracking your location before you even left your home, and then follow you while you drive back or head out for a drink afterwards. Did you? It sure isn't in the company's privacy policy, which in relation to location tracking discloses only a "single request" when selecting a theater, which will "only be used as a means to develop, improve, and personalize the service." Which part of development requires them to track you before and after you see the movie? A MoviePass representative said in a statement to TechCrunch: "We are exploring utilizing location-based marketing as a way to help enhance the overall experience by creating more opportunities for our subscribers to enjoy all the various elements of a good movie night. We will not be selling the data that we gather. Rather, we will use it to better inform how to market potential customer benefits including discounts on transportation, coupons for nearby restaurants, and other similar opportunities."

Uber Challenges Study Suggesting Its Drivers Earn $3.37 Per Hour ( 271

An MIT study using data from more than 1,100 Uber and Lyft drivers concluded they're earning a median pretax profit of just $3.37 per hour. But now Reuters reports: Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi criticized the MIT study in a tweet on Friday as "Mathematically Incompetent Theories (at least as it pertains to ride-sharing)," and linked to a response by Uber chief economist Jonathan Hall that challenged the study's methodology. Hall's rebuttal to the study said the likely misinterpretation of a survey question and the study's "inconsistent logic" produced a wage result that was below similar studies elsewhere. He said the study used a "flawed methodology" compared with a survey that found drivers' average hour earnings were $15.68. "The earnings figures suggested in the paper are less than half the hourly earnings numbers reported in the very survey the paper derives its data from," wrote Hall.

The MIT study's lead author, Stephen Zoepf, told Reuters in an email on Saturday, "I can see how the question on revenue might have been interpreted differently by respondents" and called Hall's rebuttal thoughtful. "I'm re-running the analysis this weekend using Uber's more optimistic assumptions and should have new results and a public response acknowledging the discrepancy by Monday," he wrote.

Saturday Uber's CEO tweeted a thank-you to MIT, "for listening and revisiting this study and its findings. Right thing to do."

German Cities Can Ban Diesel Cars, Court Rules ( 119

A German court has ruled that cities in Germany are allowed to enact bans on diesel vehicles, Reuters reports. It's unlikely that bans will magically appear across the country overnight, but not everyone in the country is happy about this decision. From a report: Environmentalists might be happy about the possibility of banning some of the road's dirtiest cars, but owners and right-leaning groups are not. Reuters reports that some politicians believe this decision could disenfranchise a large swath of car owners across the country, many of whom likely can't afford to immediately replace a vehicle.
The Courts

Volkswagen Settles Diesel Emissions Lawsuit Right Before Trial Set To Begin ( 74

Volkswagen settled a major diesel emissions class action lawsuit brought by hundreds of vehicle owners right before the case was set to go to trial. "The German auto giant's U.S. division settled the lawsuit brought by a North Carolina man and over 300 other owners of diesel cars who allege fraud and unfair trade practices," reports The Verge. From the report: The trial could have featured testimony from current and former VW executives and would likely have caused a spate of bad press for the automaker regarding the Dieselgate scandal. Since it first broke in 2015, the controversy has led to the resignation of VW's CEO, seen a handful of executives sentenced to jail, and resulted in billions of dollars in fines and settlements. VW is being sued by some consumers after it admitted to using software to cheat on diesel emissions tests, sparking the biggest scandal to hit the auto industry in decades. David Doar, the North Carolina man along with more than 300 other U.S. VW diesel owners, rejected settlement offers from a 2016 class action that would have reimbursed them for the value of their vehicles. Nearly all U.S. owners of affected VW vehicles agreed to take part in a $25 billion settlement in 2016, which included buyback offers and additional compensation for about 500,000 owners. But according to Reuters, some 2,000 owners have opted out, and most are pursuing separate claims seeking additional compensation.

Tesla Model 3 Torn Down, Hacked and Set On a Dynamometer, Exposing Unusual Tech Details ( 227

Rei writes: With an estimated 8,670 Model 3s delivered, a race is on as competitors and owners work to figure out its limits and explore the tech behind it. Many-time Tesla teardown expert "Ingineerix" has posted a series of videos and discussed his findings on Reddit. Among them: what appears to be the industry's first switched reluctance motor, a massive "smuggling compartment" allocated for a future front-wheel motor, no physical fuses (all solid-state), significant wiring harness length reductions via the use of multiple body controllers, a swappable crash energy absorption system, a liquid-cooled compute unit, and redundant controllers for all safety-related systems. He followed up by posting a screenshot of the car tricked into "factory mode" to reveal its internal specs, including a 1200A max discharge current, 370kW max discharge power, and a 76 kWh pack with 72,5kWh usable. Meanwhile, Munro and Associates tore down a Model 3 for an undisclosed, "not Tesla" client, releasing a video criticizing its build quality and for difficulty in accessing the HV cables in the event of an accident (Munroe's claims were dismissed by Ingineerix). Meanwhile, engineers from German automakers were extremely impressed by what they found during their teardown -- particularly the power electronics system, which they described as "compact, expandable, fully integrated, modular, easily accessible, well-protected, reasonably priced and astonishingly clever in many details." Other owners have been putting their cars on dynamometers to measure their power. Drag Times suffered some skid and measured a conflicting 281 / 327.6 hp with 552 lb-ft torque. Contrarily, Tesla Repair Channel found consistent readings around 250hp when starting from 30mph, but consistently around 390 hp when starting from 10mph. The reason for the discrepancy is not yet clear.

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