<![CDATA[NBC Southern California - Tech News]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/tech http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC4_40x125.png NBC Southern California http://www.nbclosangeles.com en-us Mon, 28 Jul 2014 17:48:07 -0700 Mon, 28 Jul 2014 17:48:07 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Uber Driver Arrested After Assault]]> Mon, 28 Jul 2014 17:31:50 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/police-lights-night-shutterstock_54084688.jpg

Police arrested an Uber driver a woman accused of sexually assaulting her earlier this month.

Police charged 31-year-old Reshad Chakari of Alexandria, Virginia, with second-degree sexual abuse.

On July 20, police went to the 1400 block of Rhode Island Avenue NW where a 25-year-old woman reported that an Uber driver sexually assaulted her. She had several drinks at a nightclub while celebrating her birthday and passed out in the car, News4's Darcy Spencer reported. According to the police report, the woman said Chakari touched her while she was sleeping in the car.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh said she wants to make sure these drivers are not preying on women. While Uber is required to perform background checks on drivers, that may not be enough, Cheh said. She said installing panic buttons in cars could help.

"Rider safety is Uber's #1 priority. We take reports like this seriously and are treating the matter with the utmost urgency and care," said Taylor Bennett, spokesperson for Uber Technologies. "It is also our policy to immediately suspend a driver’s account following any serious allegations, which we have done. We stand ready to assist authorities in any investigation.”

Stay with News4 and NBCWashington for more on this developing story.



Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Phone Chargers and Adapters Recalled]]> Sat, 12 Jul 2014 14:41:02 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/recall33.jpg

Two recalls have been issued for chargers that can overheat phones, causing a burn hazard, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

The first recall warns about Gemini adapters and chargers that were given away at trade shows between October and April.

The company has received one report of a consumer who was burned on their hand, according to the CPSC. All chargers of this brand should be thrown out. About 31,000 chargers are affected.

The second recalls warns about Lifeguard Press charging kits. Seven models of charging kits with universal serial bus (USB) connectors that are used to recharge Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod devices are affected by the recall, according to CPSC.

They were sold under the brands Ban.do, Jonathan Adler, and Lilly Pulitzer between February and June.

Lifeguard Press has received six reports of the wall chargers emitting smoke and sparking and six reports of prongs detaching from the plug, according to CPSC. No injuries have been reported.

Consumers may contact the company for a refund. About 25,400 are included in the recall.
 



Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Kardashian Game Propels App Company]]> Sat, 12 Jul 2014 12:26:58 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/KK11.jpg

Kim Kardashian is money.

Glu Mobile knows.

The app-maker is the publisher of "Kim Kardashian: Hollywood," a free-to-play game downloadable from Apple's App Store. And Glu Mobile is also enjoying a wave of success after its stock shares jumped 42 percent in recent months thanks to the Kim game, Bloomberg News reported.

San Francisco-based Glu Mobile officials say they're not surprised that Kim's celebrity power could compel hordes of downloads and plenty of in-game purchases, the trick that makes free-to-download games lucrative.

In the game, users try to negotiate their own celebrity landscapes, using advice from Kardashian herself to rise from the "so-called E-list" to the "A-list," the website reported.

Revenue from the game could hit $200 million, an analyst told the website.



Photo Credit: GC Images]]>
<![CDATA[Uber: What to Know About Car Service App]]> Thu, 10 Jul 2014 08:42:28 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/451565438.jpg

Summoning a driver at a push of a smartphone button is a lot easier than trying to hail a cab during rush hour, which may explain why Uber, a car service app that connects passengers and car services within minutes, has become so popular.

The San Francisco-based startup, which launched in 2010, is the biggest of the car-hailing apps (others include Lyft, Sidecar and Wingz), operating in 120 cities and 37 countries. Uber relies on a surge-pricing model, which means the fares increase during high-demand periods. The company has come under fire from traditional taxi drivers who say the service is not fair and might even be illegal. This battle between upstart and establishment is likely to continue, and may benefit riders from a cost perspective.

Meantime, here’s what you need to know about Uber:

  • How Does Uber Work?

A customer requests a car using a smartphone app and Uber sends its closest driver to their location, using the phone’s GPS. The fare is charged directly to your credit card. Uber provides five types of services: UberX, the cheapest option which allows for the hiring of livery car drivers with a smartphone; Uber Taxi, which lets you e-hail a yellow cab; Uber Black, a private hire car; Uber SUV, the car seats up to six people and Uber Lux, which features the priciest cars.

  • Who Drives Uber Cars?

UberX drivers are not licensed chauffeurs and they use their own cars. They also use their personal auto insurance policy while driving for Uber and they are not required to get commercial liability insurance. According to the company website, all ride-sharing and livery drivers are thoroughly screened and the company conducts ongoing reviews of drivers’ motor vehicle records throughout their time with Uber.

The review process may be flawed.  A three-month investigation by NBC4's I-Team found that convicted felons passed Uber background checks across the country. And in an undercover investigation, NBC Chicago hired several UberX drivers and ran their own background checks on them and found numerous tickets for speeding, illegal stops and running lights.

  • Is Uber Safe?

States are warning riders who hail an Uber or another ride-sharing cab that they may not be covered by insurance if the driver gets in an accident. But Uber and other ride-sharing companies say that is not the case.

"There's no insurance gap at all on any trip on the Uber system," Uber spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian told NBC News. She said the company's $1 million policy provides sufficient coverage in case a driver's personal insurance fails to do that.

There are other safery concerns as well. A 32-year-old Uber driver in Los Angeles was arrested in June on suspicion of kidnapping a woman and taking her to a motel room, police said.

And a California couples told NBC4 an Uber driver stole $2,500 in cash and personal items from them after he picked them up from LAX and dropped them off at their West Hollywood condo.

  • How Much Is Uber Worth?

Uber was valued in June at $18.2 billion, less than a year after being valued at $3.5 billion. The valuation was the highest-ever for a venture-backed start-up and experts say Uber is positioned to become one of the most powerful companies in the world.

  • Uber Capping Fares in Emergencies

Uber announced Monday that it will cap fares during emergencies and disasters in all U.S. cities. The company said prices may still rise higher than usual during an emergency, but the increase will be limited. The price will always stay below that of the three highest-priced, non-emergency days of the preceding 2 months, according to Uber's website.

The company was accused of price gouging when it applied surge pricing after Hurricane Sandy, in some cases doubling the normal fares.

  • Uber Slashing Fares in Some Cities

Uber also said Monday that it was temporarily cutting UberX rates by 20 percent in New York City, making its service cheaper than taking a yellow taxi.

An UberX ride from New York’s City’s Grand Central Terminal to the Financial District will now cost about $22, down from about $28. The same ride in a city cab will cost about $24, according to Uber’s blog.

Uber has also reduced fares in Atlanta, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago.

  • Uber Banned in Some Cities

While taxi operators often shell out more than $1 million for a medallion to operate in some cities, Uber drivers don’t. At least six cities (Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Ann Arbor, Michigan; San Antonio and Austin, Texas; and Miami) as well as the state of Virginia have banned ride-sharing companies. Another seven cities and three states (California, Connecticut and Pennsylvania) are trying to regulate them.

 

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[30 Md. Cab Companies Suing Uber]]> Mon, 21 Jul 2014 13:40:46 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Uber-Council-102313.jpg

More than 30 Maryland cab companies are suing Uber, saying the company is hampering their ability to do business.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Baltimore Circuit Court, reported the Baltimore Sun. The lawsuit claims Uber's surge-pricing model is similar to price fixing, and the car service is creating an unfair marketplace.

Taxi companies have begun to fight Uber, a popular ride-sharing company that uses an app to summon rides. In D.C., taxis affiliated with the D.C. Taxi Operators Association closed down Pennsylvania Avenue last month in a protest against Uber that gridlocked traffic.

Virginia has barred Uber from operating in the state, and in San Francisco, the head of one of the oldest cab companies in the city has said that traditional taxis may not survive 18 months in the face of competition from Uber.

Maryland has become a new battlefront for the dispute, with cab companies lobbying against proposals to regulate Uber differently than cab companies.

The cab companies claim that services like Uber aren't regulated the same way that taxis are. Uber has countered that the ride-sharing model isn't a taxi service, and pointed to the consumer demand for the product.

Two of the companies that sued in Maryland -- Barwood Tax and Sun Cab -- are based in Montgomery County.

An Uber spokesperson says it's too early to comment on this lawsuit, but the company will defend itself if it has to.



Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[NASA Launches Carbon-Sniffing Satellite]]> Sun, 06 Jul 2014 21:41:06 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Carbon+Sniffing+Satellite+Illustration.jpg

Something smells up there, or at least that what NASA hopes.

A carbon-sniffing satellite was launched into orbit on Wednesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base charged with the task to study and track the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The satellite, called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2), is part of NASA’s first mission dedicated to studying carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientists hope the $466.6 million project can help pinpoint the major sources of human-caused carbon dioxide and measure its impact on the Earth's climate.

OCO-2’s "nose" is actually a sensor that measures the intensity of the sunlight reflected by the gas in a column of air. Each individual measurement is unique and can be used both for identification and to determine patterns of carbon emission.

"Our uncertainty in carbon, what's happening with carbon, leads to a lot of uncertainty in climate," said Joshua Fisher, a JPL research scientist.

Observations of carbon dioxide levels of Earth are expected to begin in about 45 days.

The mission team is staffed and led by members of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, based in Pasadena. For the lab OCO-2 represents the culmination of years of successes, failures and some things that never quite got off the ground.

"This is the satellite that everyone's been waiting for," Fisher said.

Most recently, OCO-2’s launch was scrubbed at T-46 seconds on Tuesday due to a malfunction in the launch pad water system.

But the most serious setback to the launch of a satellite dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide happened back in 2009 when the first edition of the OCO crashed into the Indian Ocean only minutes after lift-off.

The satellite will eventually settle at the head of the A-Train constellation, a group of satellites that orbit the globe together in formation, collecting massive quantities of climate and weather data.

"Climate change is the challenge of our generation," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "With OCO-2 and our existing fleet of satellites, NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications, and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society."

Scientists expect to begin archiving calibrated mission data in around six months and plan to release their first initial estimates of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations early next year.



Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]]>
<![CDATA[Users Angered at Facebook Emotion-Manipulation Study]]> Mon, 30 Jun 2014 12:56:27 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/163*120/facebook_computer_user.jpg

Facebook is dealing with a lot of unhappy users Monday morning after the Menlo Park company tweaked the feeds of thousands of users, the Today Show reported.

Researchers changed the feeds of almost 700,000 users to show a disproportionate number of happy or sad statuses for one week in 2012.

They found the emotions of others on users' news feeds can affect their moods, but they did not inform users of the experiment. And now, many of them are calling it unethical--but it is not illegal.

When users sign up for the social network, they agree to give up their data for testing and research.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in an article called, "Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks."

An author of the study, Adam Kramer, has apologized on his personal Facebook page:

"I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety."

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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<![CDATA[Is Oakland the New Silicon Valley?]]> Fri, 27 Jun 2014 11:35:17 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/219*120/jacklondonsquare.jpg

Tech companies are now branching out into the East Bay, favoring Oakland after being priced out of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley.

Erik Collier serves as one of the general managers of Ask.com, a search engine company that moved into Oakland's City Center from Emeryville in 2004.

"We knew it was cool before it was cool," Collier said. "We were looking for more space. Oakland seemed to be a great spot, a central location to transportation."

Other startups and tech companies moving into Oakland point to the cheaper costs of doing business, especially compared to San Francisco or on the Peninsula.

The average price for an apartment in San Francisco is $3,500. Oakland's average rent is about $2,000 a month for an apartment.

"All the young techies want to be in the East Bay," Oakland Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney said. "It is so hot. They don't want the sterile environment of those isolated campuses of the old tech."

McElhaney considers old-tech powerhouse companies to be the likes of Facebook, Google and Apple, all of which helped make Silicon Valley famous, simultaneously driving up rents south of the City in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, neither of which have much in the way of rent control.

She is touting Oakland as the next big thing for the tech industry.

"At this point, Silicon Valley is old money," McElhaney said.

The Sears and Roebuck building in Oakland will soon become part of  the city's renaissance. The building has been sold and the new owner plans to turn the building into retail and office space for more start-up companies.

Oakland restaurateur Irfan Joffrey, owner of Camber, said the upswing seems to be gaining momentum.

"A lot of new businesses are moving in," he said, "just because other businesses are coming into town so they can benefit from the economy."

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<![CDATA[SF Parking App Makers Threatened With Fines, Lawsuit]]> Tue, 24 Jun 2014 07:32:34 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/06-23-2014-parking-app.jpg

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who think they can solve San Francisco’s parking woes – and make some cash at the same time – are busy launching new apps that match drivers in need with much-coveted parking spots in the city.

But these tech companies could fold just as quickly as they started – or face possible fines or lawsuits – if they choose to go through with their business plans. 

On Monday, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued a cease-and-desist letter to MonkeyParking, claiming the app is illegal because it attempts to lease public, on-street parking spots.

Herrera also sent a similar letter to Apple, asking the Cupertino-based giant to remove the app from its store. Herrera also vowed to send out two more letters to ParkModo and Sweetch, companies with similar business models that charge consumers money to find empty spaces in parking-starved San Francisco.

Herrera’s letter said the companies will face a $2,500 fine, and a lawsuit, if they don’t stop operations by July 11. And his letter brought up issues of safety, logistics and equity regarding the controversial apps in a city where parking is in short supply.

In an email, MoneyParking CEO Paolo Dobrowolny said he wasn't allowed to say too much because he hadn't yet time to consult with his lawyers. But in general, he said, he believes his company is "providing value to people," where users can "make $10 every time you leave a parking spot" by holding that spot until the next person comes. He said he feels his service should "regulated and not banned."

But, in an interview on Monday, Sweetch founders insisted that they’re not selling public spaces, they’re selling information. And the founders – French students who developed the app while taking an entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley – vigorously defended their business model.

In fact, Sweetch Co-Founder Hamza Ouazzani said his company attorneys told his San Francisco-based team that the app is “perfectly legal.” He explained that Sweetch’s goal mirrors Uber and Lyft, which also attempt to match people through the “sharing economy." Those two companies have been visible players in the ongoing conflict between tech ventures and public entities.

The Sweetch app, which charges users $5 to park, and pays users $4 to sell their spot to someone new, aims to make parking smarter, Ouazzani said, by providing a lower cost option for people who want to decrease the time they spend hunting for a place to park.

Ouazzani said while he’s not worried about Herrera’s threats, his team is now in consultation with attorneys to decide what the next move is for Sweetch.

The next move, at least on the city attorney’s behalf, will be to start fining, or suing, the companies who don’t heed his warnings. Herrera’s office noted, however, that Sweetch’s app, with its set-price model, does not appear to be as egregious as the other two apps, which encourage online bidding wars over parking spots.

City attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey said his office isn't buying the app makers' logic. He said companies that claim to be selling “parking information," as opposed to the spot itself, are giving consumers a line that is “patently false.”

Companies like these are “holding on-street parking hostage,” Dorsey said in a phone interview. He added that San Francisco police code clearly bans the buying and selling of public spots to drivers. “It’s like selling off Muni seats,” he said.

Plus, Dorsey is skeptical that the information the companies are selling is even useful.

 “In the Mission District,” he said, “That information isn’t going to be good for very long.”

Herrera’s office is also arguing that drivers using these apps will make the roads more unsafe.

“Presumably, you’re still on your iPhone while you’re driving,” Dorsey said.

And, on a social justice level, Dorsey said the city attorney is concerned that the apps might "fly in the face of San Francisco values," making parking even more difficult for those without parking app access.

“It’s not fair that people with the ability to pay have a better chance to find parking in San Francisco than you or I might,” he said. “It’s already a city with affordability problems.”



Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sweetch]]>
<![CDATA[Daughter's Letter Gets Dad Week Off of Work at Google]]> Tue, 24 Jun 2014 12:15:10 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/tlmd_07_google_car.jpg

A little girl's summer wish came true, thanks to a letter she wrote to Google.

Katie wanted her dad, who works at Google, to spend more time with her, so she wrote the Mountain View company a letter asking for him to have Wednesday off. 

"Can you please make sure when daddy goes to work, he gets one day off," she wrote in the letter, which is going viral on Twitter.

"P.S. It is daddy's birthday. P.P.S. It is summer, you know," she added.

The letter worked, according to "The Today Show," as Google responded with a letter thanking Katie for the note and giving her dad the first week of July off as vacation time.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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<![CDATA[Google Doodle Takes on Office Workers Sneaking Peeks at World Cup ]]> Mon, 23 Jun 2014 10:36:29 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/worldcupgoogledoodle.jpg

Google outted office workers around the world with a doodle that features the iconic "Google" letters sitting around a conference table watching a World Cup game.

The animated letters are seen switching from the game to a graph presentation when a stern looking letter "B" walks by with a clipboard in hand. Once the B-is-for-Boss is gone, the PowerPoint presentation switches back to what appears to be an exciting match as the Google letters cheer and fist pump.

Users who click on the Doodle were taken to coverage of Monday's Netherlands vs. Chile match.

Researchers have yet to calculate the estimated loss of work productivity during the 2014 World Cup, but the U.S. economy in 2010 took a $121.7 million hit due to the 21 million soccer-loving Americans who watched for 10 work minutes a day during the South Africa games, according to NBC News.

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<![CDATA[Facebook Down for the Second Time This Week]]> Fri, 20 Jun 2014 15:03:08 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP120112075763.jpg

Facebook appeared to be experiencing an outage on Friday afternoon. Users attempting to log on would see either a blank screen or an error message.

This is the second time this week the popular social networking site went off the grid. Facebook suffered its longest and biggest outage in the middle of the night on Thursday as millions of users around the world found themselves unable to access their accounts for about half an hour starting at 4 a.m. ET.

The latest service disruption started at about 1:13 p.m. ET, according to downrightnow.com, a website that monitors web services. Facebook was back up by 6:00 PM ET.
 



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Crime Data Show iPhone "Kill Switch" Cuts Thefts]]> Fri, 20 Jun 2014 05:42:54 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/smartphone+kill+switch+movement.jpg

New crime data show Apple's addition of a "kill switch" to its iPhones last September has sharply reduced robberies and thefts, authorities said Thursday.

The report by state attorneys general, prosecutors, police and other officials from a year-old initiative called "Secure Our Smartphones" said Google and Microsoft will incorporate a kill switch into the next version of their operating systems on smartphones.

The three systems - Android, iOS, and Windows Phone - are used in 97 percent of smartphones in the U.S.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, part of the initiative, said the data show crimes meanwhile surged against people carrying phones without switches intended to make them useless to thieves.

"The statistics released today illustrate the stunning effectiveness of kill switches, and the commitments of Google and Microsoft are giant steps toward consumer safety," he said.

The report noted a Consumer Reports estimate that 3.1 million mobile devices were stolen nationally in 2013, double a year earlier.

In New York City, robberies of Apple products fell 19 percent while grand larcenies dropped 29 percent in the first five months of 2014 compared with a year earlier, according to the report.

Robberies and grand larcenies involving a Samsung smartphone, which didn't have a kill switch during much of that time, rose more than 40 percent.

Samsung introduced a kill switch in April.

Crime data from police in San Francisco and London, comparing the six months before Apple's switch to the six months following, showed similar trends, according to the report.

In San Francisco, iPhone robberies declined 38 percent, while robberies of Samsung devices increased 12 percent.

In London, Apple thefts declined 24 percent, while Samsung thefts increased 3 percent.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, also part of the initiative, said that the statistics prove that a technological solution to prevent theft was possible.

He called for legislation "at all levels" to make anti-theft solutions mandatory.

"Compared to all of the cool things smartphones can do these days, this is not that advanced," Gascon said. "I believe ending the victimization of millions of Americans is the coolest thing a smartphone can do."

Google spokesman Christopher Katsaros said Thursday the next version of Android will include "a factory reset protection solution to help deter smartphone theft."

The company plans to release more details shortly, he said.

Microsoft plans to offer "theft-deterrent features" as an update for all phones running Windows Phone 8.0 and newer, subject to mobile operator and phone manufacturer approvals by July 2015, vice president Fred Humphries posted online Thursday.

It will update the Find My Phone feature, making it capable of remotely erasing personal data, rendering phones inoperable by unauthorized users except to call 911 and prevent reactivation without the authorized user's permission.

It will allow reactivating phones recovered by authorized users and restore erased data stored in the cloud, he wrote.

Apple did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

The iPhone switch is an opt-in feature, requiring users to enable it by touching a series of buttons: settings, iCloud, Find My iPhone.

It allows the user to locate the phone on a map and remotely lock or erase it. The initiative, with 29 state attorneys general, dozens of prosecutors, police and other officials as members, advocates kill switches as standard features where users would have to opt out.

Minnesota last month became the first state to mandate a kill switch on all smartphones tablets sold in the state effective July 2015.



Photo Credit: NBC10.com]]>
<![CDATA[NASA Tracks "Zombie" Spacecraft]]> Wed, 18 Jun 2014 08:20:59 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/06-17-2014-nasa-mcdonalds.jpg

"We hope to establish contact."

A big goal for a small team of engineers, working out of a very unusual office at NASA's Ames Research Center.

The team, led by Jacob Gold, is trying to track the International Sun/Earth Explorer, often called ISEE-3. First launched back in the disco age of 1978, ISEE-3 has been doing a steady dance around the moon. The team worries that after its latest moon orbit, the spacecraft will disappear into the depths of space - never to be heard from again.

So Gold and his fellow engineers have set up camp in building 596, which used to be a McDonald's at Ames. Now, instead of fry cookers and shake machines, it's filled with instruments to try and track the spacecraft, with the goal of tracking it down, and putting it back to work.

The team has even raised $132,000 in a crowdfunding campaign. They know they have to work fast, and nothing is for sure. But this little probe has been busy: It also sent back data from Halley's comet, before being shut down, for budgetary reasons, back in 1999.

Can it come back? We'll keep you posted.

Scott can be tracked on Twitter: @scottbudman

 



Photo Credit: Scott Budman]]>
<![CDATA[Use of License-Plate Readers Sparks Concern]]> Tue, 17 Jun 2014 17:30:15 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/DGreen01Cropped.jpg
By Ali Winston

Denise Green had just dropped off her sister at the 24th Street Mission BART station after picking her up from the hospital.

Green, who was driving a 1992 red Lexus, noticed a San Francisco police car with its lights on pull up behind her as she passed through the intersection of Mission Street and Highland Avenue. Green pulled over to let the patrol car pass.

She was stunned when officers yelled, “Put your hands up!”

Sgt. Ja Han Kim ordered her to step out of the car, and as Green complied, she turned and saw several officers with their guns trained on her.

“Don’t look at us!” one of them said.

“Turn around!” the officers shouted, forcing Green to her knees.

They handcuffed her and searched her Lexus. Green overheard officers standing near her license plate shouting numbers to each other.

“It's not a seven?” one said.

“No, three five zero,” another officer replied.

Green, a Muni driver and 50-year-old San Francisco resident, had been pulled over and detained because her car was mistakenly identified as a stolen vehicle by an automatic license-plate reader the city had installed on its police cars. The officers did not confirm her license plate with their dispatcher.

“It was a nightmare,” Green said of the traffic stop. “I had no idea what was going on or why they were treating me like a criminal – I just hope that never happens to anyone else.”

Five years later, as Green’s lawsuit over the incident goes to a civil trial this year, the use of license-plate readers has emerged as one of the biggest concerns among privacy advocates. Car-tracking technology is becoming ubiquitous in cities around the United States, and the types of data collected and analyzed with the help of license-plate readers is expanding into other realms of personal information.

Documents obtained by The Center for Investigative Reporting show that a leading maker of license-plate readers wants to merge the vehicle identification technology with other sources of identifying information, alarming privacy advocates. Vigilant Solutions is pushing a system that eventually could help fuse public records, license plates and facial recognition databases for police in the field.

Vigilant Solutions offers free access to license-plate reader, or LPR, data to law enforcement. It is the market leader in this data collection. CREDIT: Vigilant Solutions presentation.

The Livermore, California, company released its own facial recognition software last year for use in stationary and mobile devices. The technology uses algorithms to determine whether a person’s face matches that of somebody already in a law enforcement database. Like license-plate readers, facial recognition technology has been criticized for incorrectly identifying people .

Vigilant also is the market leader in license-plate data collection. The company runs the Law Enforcement Archive and Reporting Network database, which stores more than 2.5 billion records and adds roughly 70 million new license-plate scans monthly. The company offers law enforcement free access to its license-plate data through another database, the National Vehicle Location Service.

Vigilant sells license-plate readers to over a dozen California agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and the Sacramento Police and County Sheriff’s departments. For its business with law enforcement in the city of Alameda, Anaheim, Marin County, San Rafael and Sacramento, Vigilant won the contracts without going through a competitive bidding process.

A Vigilant PowerPoint presentation about its products, obtained by CIR, contains a section on the “near future” for the company. That includes a fusion of public records, license-plate data and facial recognition, according to the slide. Another technology, dubbed MOAB, would help law enforcement find vehicles using a “probabilistic assessment” of a vehicle’s location based on historical data and public records.

Another slide prepared for Texas law enforcement shows how a combined data program could work. It would pull mug shots from the local Department of Motor Vehicles database and notify law enforcement with an alert if “a vehicle is associated with someone with a known criminal history.” The slide also describes “facial images embedded into” the license-plate record. Another describes how Vigilant’s FaceSearch application works on mobile devices.

Amy Widdowson, a Vigilant spokeswoman, said the slides reviewed by CIR were of a prototype program that did not actually include facial recognition technology.

As for specific references to merging license-plate data with facial recognition and public records, Widdowson said the slide “is merely showing that law enforcement can combine data from public records with LPR (license-plate reader) data to reduce their search area for a suspect.”

Privacy advocates said combining historical plate-reader data with public records and facial recognition technology runs contrary to law enforcement's argument that license plates are not considered personally identifying information.

Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles Police Department for information about their collection and use of license-plate data, said Vigilant's plans could represent a sea change in the technology.

Noting that Vigilant already offers analytical software that traces the movements of a vehicle through the public and private plate-reader data it retains, Lynch said the company's plans could pose a threat to individual privacy.

By combining the location data from license-plate readers with public records such as court files and property records ­– as well as photographs of individuals from criminal or DMV databases – into one search tool, which in turn could be used with facial recognition software, license-plate readers could move into uncharted territory.

A plate reader could tag a passing car and the names of people associated with the vehicle and keep a log of where that person traveled. That data potentially could be stored for months or years.

“When you're combining data from multiple sources, it becomes incredibly revealing,” Lynch said.

For her part, Green filed a civil suit against the San Francisco Police Department. The case is expected to go to trial this winter after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's decision to dismiss her claim. At the time of the incident, San Francisco police used license-plate readers manufactured by PIPS Technology, a subsidiary of Federal Signal Corp., not technology from Vigilant Solutions.

San Francisco officials declined to comment on the pending litigation.

 Green’s attorney, Michael Haddad, said the incident took a serious toll on her. “It was extremely terrifying, and Denise ended up having to miss a couple weeks of work and get counseling afterwards.”

But Haddad noted one significant fact in the documentation for the trial: The machines can have an error rate as high as 8 percent. “There's some acknowledgment by the manufacturers,” he said, “that there's a significant percentage of the time that they're wrong.”

This story was edited by Robert Salladay and copy edited by Sheela Kamath and Nikki Frick.

This story was produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting, an award-winning nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more, visit cironline.org. Contact the reporter at awinston@cironline.org.



Photo Credit: Noah Berger for CIR]]>
<![CDATA[Target Fixes Glitch That Caused Delays at Checkout]]> Mon, 16 Jun 2014 09:29:50 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/target9.JPG

Target says it has fixed a glitch that caused delays at checkout stands at some of its U.S. stores Sunday.

The company said it identified the source, and that it was not a security-related issue.

“We sincerely apologize to anyone inconvenienced by this issue,” said Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman.

One customer told NBC4 on Twitter that a Target store in Tustin was unable to process debit cards. The store handed out coupons for $10 off to customers, she said.

Last December, Target announced it was the victim of a cyber attack that resulted in the theft of at least 40 million payment card numbers and 70 million other pieces of customer data.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Electric Car Maker Tesla Will Open Up All Its Patents]]> Fri, 13 Jun 2014 06:41:07 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/edt131282111.jpg Electric car maker Tesla Motors is sharing its technological brainpower with the world and will open up all of its patents in an effort to boost electric car production. Jean Elle reports.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Tesla to Open Up Its Electric Car Patents]]> Fri, 13 Jun 2014 05:49:01 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/tesla_models_car_red.jpg

Electric car maker Tesla Motors is sharing its technological brainpower with the world and will open up all of its patents in an effort to boost electric car production.

"Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology," Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a blog post announcing the decision Thursday.

Musk said he hopes encouraging other electric car manufacturers to use Tesla's technology will help make cars less reliant on gasoline.

"Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis," Musk wrote in his blog post.

"Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day," he added.

Musk said his new business strategy was based on open source philosophy, which encourages the free and open development of technology, and said sharing Tesla's technology "will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard."

The announcement came the heels of Monday's reveal that Tesla also planned to encourage standardized electric car specifications by opening Tesla's Supercharger system to other auto makers, Engadget first reported. The Supercharger lets Tesla drivers charge half the car's battery life in about 20 minutes.



Photo Credit: Bryan Mitchell/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[TweetDeck Security Issue Gives Hackers Access to Accounts]]> Wed, 11 Jun 2014 10:27:07 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/160*160/tweetdeck18.jpg

Users of Twitter's popular web app TweetDeck are encouraged to log out of their account right away.

Users reported on Wednesday morning that the app was creating pop-up alerts all by itself. The issue seemed to be affecting those who use TweetDeck on Google Chrome, but some reports show that other versions were affected as well, according to the tech blog Gigacom.

Mashable reported that the service has a security flaw that could allow hackers to gain access to user accounts. TweetDeck confirmed on Twitter in the afternoon that the issue has been fixed.

In addition to logging out of and logging back into the app, users are encouraged to remove access to TweetDeck from the Twitter app before using the service again.

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<![CDATA[LAPD Drones Raise Privacy Concerns]]> Sun, 01 Jun 2014 16:58:25 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/lapd+drone+web+copy.jpg

The Los Angeles Police Department’s recent acquisition of two drones has the ACLU concerned over potential privacy issues.

While the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California applauded the LAPD for being transparent about the department’s acquisition of the Draganflyer X6 drones, the group “questions whether the marginal benefits to SWAT operations justify the serious threat to privacy,” said executive director Hector Villagra.

“They can be used for completely surreptitious surveillance that a helicopter could never perform,” Villagra said in a statement. “Drones equipped with facial recognition software, infrared technology, and speakers capable of monitoring personal conversations would cause real harms to our privacy rights.”

For now, the LAPD has not decided whether or not to use the unmanned vehicles. The drones are being held by a federal law enforcement agency and is pending review by the LAPD and the Board of Police Commissioners, a five-member group that is set in place to serve as the citizen’s voice in police matters.

The drones would be used in narrow cases such as to “prevent imminent bodily harm” or “a hostage situation or barricaded armed suspect,” according to a news release from the LAPD.

The drones were originally purchased by the Seattle Police Department with federal grants and were given to the LAPD free of cost. 



Photo Credit: draganfly.com]]>
<![CDATA[Hidden Money Stashed Across California]]> Wed, 28 May 2014 07:41:40 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/SamTrans+Money3.jpg A person who said they made money flipping houses is hiding money across California and using Twitter to send out tips where to find the cash. Mekahlo Medina reports for NBC4 News at 6 p.m. from Los Angeles Tuesday, May 27, 2014.]]> <![CDATA[China Hacking Charges Tied to SoCal Business]]> Tue, 20 May 2014 03:56:33 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/184*120/solarworld-solar-world.jpg

When a federal indictment against five Chinese military officers was unsealed and announced Monday by U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder, it did not come as a complete surprise to a solar panel company with a Camarillo office.

SolarWorld is identified in the indictment as one of the victims targeted for cyber espionage by alleged conspirators in mainland China.

Thousands of emails and attached documents with proprietary information were illegally accessed by hacking into computer systems in 2012, according to the indictment.

That summer, SolarWorld Americas was notified by the FBI that a federal investigation
was underway, said the company's director of strategic affairs, Ben Santarris.

"The emails that were infiltrated were full of strategic information that would give any competitor a leg up," Santarris said during an interview in the company's Hillsboro, Oregon facility outside Portland.  

The nuclear energy branch of Westinghouse Electric Company, three major U.S. metals producers and a labor union were also targeted by the Chinese conspirators, the indictment alleges.

"We have a state sponsored entity, state sponsored individuals, using intelligence tools to gain commercial advantage," Holder said.

SolarWorld  Americas is a U.S.-based subsidiary of the German company SolarWorld AG.  The cyber hacking allegedly targeted correspondence among executives located both at the U.S. headquarters in Hillsboro, and at the office in Camarillo where there was also manufacturing until 2011.

SolarWorld was already at odds with the Chinese solar industry, accusing it of predatory trade practices.  

"China has been seeking an unfair advantage," Santarris said, pointing to that
as the reason SolarWorld was losing marketshare to Chinese manufacturers.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Commerce found that Chinese solar exporters had "dumped" solar products in U.S. markets at prices below production cost, hurting the sales of SolarWorld and driving some other American solar manufacturers out of business.

As a result of its finding, the Commerce Department imposed import duties on Chinese solar products brought to the U.S.  In required filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, some Chinese companies reported U.S. revenues declined after increases from 2009-11.

How much further harm SolarWorld suffered from the alleged espionage, Santarris could
not say.

"I have no way of knowing what was done with that information," he said.

The indictment offered this assessment: "Collectively, the data stolen from SolarWorld would have enabled a Chinese competitor to target SolarWorld's business operations aggressively from a
variety of angles."

Among the compromised information was correspondence dealing with the unfair trade cases, one of which is still open.  It deals with what SolarWorld calls a loophole in the import duty that Chinese Solar manufacturers have exploited by outsourcing a portion of the process to Taiwan. In so doing, the manufacturers assert they do not have to pay the duty tax.

The first of a series of findings in that case is due next month.

Customer databases were not compromised, according to SolarWorld.

The Americas accounted for slightly more than a fourth of the parent company's total revenues during the first quarter of 2014.

In recent years, SolarWorld has been forced to make a series of layoffs, Santarris said. From a peak of 1,100 U.S. workers, it is now down to 700.

"This cyber hacking leads directly to the loss of jobs in the United States," said David Hickston, U.S. attorney for the western district of Pennsylvania, where the grand jury was seated.

The five military men named in the indictment are described as officers in the same unit of the Third Department of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. 

China scoffed at the charges as unfounded.

How the alleged cyber hacking was discovered originally was not disclosed.



Photo Credit: SolarWorld]]>
<![CDATA[Dallas-based AT&T Acquires DirecTV in $49B Deal]]> Mon, 19 May 2014 17:20:58 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/051814+ATandT+headquarters+Dallas.jpg

Dallas-based AT&T is at the center of multibillion dollar deal Sunday where the communications giant agreed to buy DirecTV in a deal worth $48.5 billion.

The acquisition was approved by both boards at AT&T and DirecTV. It's a deal AT&T said will benefit the consumer, but many people fear the acquisition means less competition and higher prices

"I’m quite concerned because the less competition for me means prices are going to be higher,” said Selwyn Hunt, who is a DirectTV customer. “And that concerns me and my family.”

Hunt pays about $175 a month for TV and Internet service from DirecTV. He fears his bills will go up if AT&T acquires DirectTV.

“I’m happy with DirecTV, but I find them to be expensive,” said Hunt.

“I think it’s going to make one person [company] be able to drive prices up,” said David Willis, who is a former DirecTV customer, but currently uses an antenna to watch TV. “That's not going to be fair overall for the consumer.”

Currently, AT&T has about 5.7 million U-Verse customers in the U.S., while DirecTV has 20 million satellite customers; DirecTV has another 18 million customers in Latin America. The deal will increase the amount of video subscribers AT&T has by five times, reaching customers around the country.

A spokesperson for AT&T said the deal will be able to make the company more competitive with Comcast and Time Warner. And they said they will offer better package deals to customers for video, broadband and mobile.

The acquisition still needs to be approved by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice, but AT&T expects that to be done within a year.

Still, the cost of services is a big concern for many customers if the acquisition is closed.

“Hopefully it’s going to be a good thing because AT&T’s prices have been insane lately,” said Mike Mousel, who spends more than $300 a month for U-Verse, mobile and Internet services from AT&T.

A spokesperson for AT&T said they will honor the current rate for broadband and DirecTV customers for three years after the deal. But after that, prices could change.

AT&T has about 16,500 employees based out of Dallas. A spokesperson said it is too early to project what the acquisition means for job losses or gains in the company.

If the deal is approved, AT&T would become the country's second largest pay TV operator. Right behind Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which agreed to merge in February 2014. Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which includes NBC 5 and NBCDFW.com.



Photo Credit: Ivory Taylor, NBC 5 News]]>