Apple sues Qualcomm over patent licensing and $1B in payments

A nasty spat between Apple and Qualcomm broke into public view on Friday when the smartphone maker accused the chip supplier of charging “exorbitant” licensing fees for its cellular technology.Apple

Apple is asking a Southern California court to order Qualcomm to pay it nearly $1 billion that it says Qualcomm is holding back. Apple says it is owed the money but Qualcomm is holding it back because Apple cooperated with a South Korean government investigation into Qualcomm’s licensing practices.

The lawsuit alleges that Qualcomm charges high licensing fees to the companies that make iPhones for Apple. Those companies pass the fees on to Apple but aren’t allowed to show Apple the specifics of the licensing deals, leaving Apple unsure what it is paying for.

“For many years Qualcomm has unfairly insisted on charging royalties for technologies they have nothing to do with,” Apple said in a statement. “The more Apple innovates with unique features such as TouchID, advanced displays, and cameras, to name just a few, the more money Qualcomm collects for no reason and the more expensive it becomes for Apple to fund these innovations.”

The lawsuit comes just months after Apple began using Intel radio chips in some units of the iPhone 7. And it follows two recent legal actions by antitrust regulators against Qualcomm’s licensing practices.

In December, antitrust regulators in South Korea levied an $854 million fine against Qualcomm for unfair licensing practices. Qualcomm vowed to appeal the decision.

Then, earlier this week, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission followed with allegations of its own: that Qualcomm had engaged in anticompetitive practices by forcing some phone makers into accepting unfavorable licensing terms while giving Apple a break in exchange for exclusivity.

Apple cooperated with the South Korean investigation. It alleged on Friday that Qualcomm withheld nearly $1 billion in rebates as punishment for that.

In response to the FTC’s lawsuit earlier this week, Qualcomm denied it did anything of the sort and said the FTC’s lawsuit is “significantly flawed.”

“Qualcomm has never withheld or threatened to withhold chip supply in order to obtain agreement to unfair or unreasonable licensing terms,” it said in a statement. “The FTC’s allegation to the contrary—the central thesis of the complaint—is wrong.”

It has not commented on Apple’s lawsuit.

Lavabit developer has a new encrypted, end-to-end email protocol

The developer behind Lavabit, an email service that noted leaker Edward Snowden used, is releasing source code for an open-source end-to-end encrypted email standard that promises surveillance-proof messaging.img 20170120 171638 01

The code for the Dark Internet Mail Environment (DIME) standard will become available on Github, along with an associated mail server program, said its developer Ladar Levison on Friday.

DIME will work across different service providers and perhaps crucially will be “flexible enough to allow users to continue using their email without a Ph.D. in cryptology,” said Levison.

To coincide with its launch, Levison is also reviving Lavabit. The encrypted email service shut down in 2013 when federal agents investigating Snowden demanded access to email messages of his 410,000 customers, including their private encryption keys.

Levison decided to shut it down, rather than help the U.S. government violate his customers’ privacy, he wrote on Friday.

“I chose Freedom,” he said. “Much has changed since my decision, but unfortunately much has not in our post-Snowden world.”

Levison said he is relaunching the service, citing “recent jaw-dropping headlines” over how email remains insecure.

“Today, we start a new freedom journey and inaugurate the next-generation of email privacy and security,” he wrote on Lavabit’s site.

The revived Lavabit is also built with DIME, which Levison started a Kickstarter fund back in 2014. It is designed to encrypt the email and its transmission, including the metadata such as the message’s subject line, sender and recipient.

The new Lavabit will operate in three encryption modes that range from Trustful, Cautious to Paranoid. Each mode handles message encryption and private key storage differently at the expense of ease of use.

For instance, Paranoid mode means Lavabit’s servers will never store a user’s private keys.

Initially, however, Lavabit will only be accessible to existing users of the service and only in Trustful mode. New users must pre-register and wait for the eventual rollout.

Lavabit is a subscription-based service. On Friday, it was offering a discount deal. For $15 annually, a user can have access to 5GB of email storage. For $30, a user can have access to 20 GB of space.

Prices plummet for AMD’s beastly Radeon Pro Duo graphics card ahead of Vega’s release

The long, confusing lifecycle of AMD’s beastly Radeon Pro Duo is quietly entering its final days as retailers clear the deck for the forthcoming Radeon Vega graphics cards.radeon pro duo

The $1,500 MSRP Radeon Pro Duo sits reigns as AMD’s graphics champion with not one but two high-end Fiji graphics processors, exotic high-bandwidth memory, and integrated closed-loop water cooling that kept the board running at chilly temperatures. But the timing and messaging around the graphics card just felt wrong from day one.


AMD first teased a then-unnamed dual-Fiji graphics card at E3 2015—a decidedly consumer-focused gaming event—alongside the Fury, Fury X, and Radeon Nano. While those gamer-focused cards launched in relatively short order, the Radeon Pro Duo languished all the way until March of last year, when it released with a newfound focus on professional users and hellacious GPU compute chops.

That bummed out enthusiasts hoping to unleash the power of two Fury X GPUs in a single card, but it made sense for AMD to focus on development scenarios instead as the effective 4GB capacity of first-gen HBM memory would no doubt hinder gaming performance at the resolutions and detail settings that two Fiji GPUs could push. Plus, multi-GPU gaming has been punched in the gut over the past two years, with few major game releases supporting CrossFire or SLI setups, further diminishing the Radeon Pro Duo’s potential effectiveness.

Unfortunately the marketing for the Radeon Pro Duo was muddled and confusing right up until its launch, and once the ferocious GeForce GTX 1080 released a mere two months later there was little reason for many users to consider buying AMD’s technological champion no matter how impressive it was on paper. AMD never even sent the Pro Duo to consumer publications for testing.

radeon pro duo innards

Now that AMD’s publicly showing off its high-end Radeon Vega graphics cards, which pack performance upgrades and second-gen HBM memory that ditches the limitations of the initial product, the Radeon Pro’s days are numbered, as TechPowerUp pointed out. While Amazon’s selling the XFX Radeon Pro Duo for $1150, a $350 discount, Newegg’s selling the XFX Radeon Pro for $800, as is Japan’s PC4U—nearly half off!

Or at least it was. The remaining stock sold out quickly at that price on Newegg, proving yet again that there’s no such thing as bad hardware, only hardware at bad prices. The XFX Radeon Pro is available once again on Newegg, but for $820 now.

If you’re curious about what’s to come in Vega, Gordon Mah Ung and I recently chatted with Radeon SVP and chief architect Raja Koduri for more than 40 minutes at CES, drilling deep into the details of AMD’s next-gen graphics cards. Check out the full interview below.

Samsung investigation blames Galaxy Note7 explosions on faulty batteries

Samsung Electronics on Monday blamed batteries supplied by two manufacturers for the overheating and even explosions of some Galaxy Note7 phones, as it tried to provide a long due explanation for the issues surrounding the smartphone.160902 samsung note7 2 100680696 orig

The announcement by the company, a day ahead of it reporting its fourth quarter results, had experts from TUV Rheinland, Exponent and UL stating that internal manufacturing and design defects of the batteries, including missing insulating tape in some cases, and not the design of the phones were responsible for the battery issues.

The negative electrode windings in the battery of an unnamed “manufacturer A,” who first supplied the batteries for the Note7 phones, were found in some cases to be damaged and bent over because the cell pouch did not provide enough volume to accommodate the battery assembly, said Kevin White, Exponent’s principal scientist, at a press conference that was webcast.

There were signs of internal short circuit at different locations of the cells from five of the damaged devices, said Sajeev Jesudas, president of the consumer business unit of UL. He also pointed to deformation of the upper corners of the batteries, missing insulation tapes on the tabs, and the use of thin separators as some of the factors that could contribute to a short circuit.

After incidents were reported on the field, Samsung turned to another supplier, referred to by the company as “manufacturer B.” But welding defects in “some incident cells were found to be tall enough to bridge the distance to the negative electrode foil,” raising the possibility of short circuits and self-heating, White said.

Samsung turned to Amperex Technology in Hong Kong to supply batteries for the replacement Note7 phones after issues were reported with batteries supplied by affiliate Samsung SDI, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Samsung’s team of investigators checked the Note7’s features such as fast charging, water resistance and its newly-introduced iris scanner for a possible role in the explosions but found those had not had an impact, said D.J. Koh, president of the Mobile Communications Business at Samsung.

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DJ Koh, president of Samsung’s Mobile Communications Business speaking on the cause of the Note7 explosions. Jan 22, 2017

More than 700 Samsung researchers and engineers tested over months over 200,000 Note7 phones and 30,000 phone batteries before arriving at their conclusions, he said.

In the wake of reports of overheating of the lithium-ion batteries, Samsung announced a global recall of the Note7 in early September after it found a “battery cell issue.” The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also announced on Sept. 15 a recall in the U.S. of about 1 million Note7 phones.

The replacement phones Samsung shipped out also had battery issues leading the company to recall the phones again and end production of the device. By Oct. 13, CPSC had expanded the recall to include replacement Note7 phones that Samsung had supplied to customers under the first recall program.

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Samsung ran various tests on the batteries

Samsung said that 96 percent of about 3 million Galaxy Note7 phones “sold and activated” had been returned by users. As some customers had not returned the phones to the company, despite an offer of an exchange with other Samsung devices or a refund, it had to take recourse to working with cellular operators in some markets like the U.S. and Australia, to disconnect the phones from the network.

The Note7 recall was a public-relations and financial debacle for Samsung, which reported that the third quarter revenue of its IT and Mobile Communications division was down 15 percent from the same period last year to 22.5 trillion Korean won (US$19.8 billion) while operating profit fell 95 percent to 100 billion won, as a result of the discontinuation of the Note7.

The company now expects a turnaround in the fourth quarter, largely because of a better showing by its components business that includes memory chips and displays. In guidance issued earlier this month, the company said its profit has grown year-on-year by close to 50 percent in the quarter. Revenue for the quarter is expected to be about the same as in the fourth quarter of the previous year.

Samsung is trying to put the Note7 debacle behind it and may well succeed. “Most in the US and Europe had forgotten about it already. It’s China they really need to lean into and make sure this message sticks,” said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

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A sign advises against use of Samsung’s Note 7 in aircraft at Changi Airport in Singapore on Oct. 8, 2016.

To reassure customers, Samsung also discussed steps it was taking to ensure product quality at every level of product development, including an eight-point safety check for batteries. Teams will focus, for example, on key components and work with external advisers to make preventative checks for any issues.

A battery advisory group of external advisers made up of academic and research experts is expected to provide the company a “clear and objective perspective on battery safety and innovation.” The company is also introducing improved algorithms for managing battery charging temperature, and charging current and duration.

“I liked that they added new processes and enhanced others in the 8-step safety check,” said Moorhead. “The new software is very interesting, too. Even better was the board of advisors that are there to assist on future decisions.”

The future will be even more challenging as consumers are demanding thinner devices that have longer battery life, he added.

In the short term though there could be concerns from consumers about lithium-ion batteries after Samsung disclosed that two manufacturers had made serious mistakes. “This level of promotion will give some pause for a while as it relates to Li-ion devices, but as with most recalls, it will be forgotten in six months,” Moorhead said in an email.

Hugo Barra quits Chinese phone maker Xiaomi to return to Silicon Valley

Hugo Barra is returning to Silicon Valley, just over three years after he left Google to help turn Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi into a global company.

During Barra’s time in Beijing, Xiaomi has grown far beyond its home market with its strategy of selling stylish Android phones on thin profit margins. In January, it made a splash at the CES trade show in Las Vegas, capping a series of international launches that had taken the company into over 20 countries, including India, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, Mexico and Poland.launch event 02

Barra, once Google’s vice president for Android product management, announced in a Facebook post Monday that he planned to return to the U.S. for personal reasons.

He had concluded it was time to leave Xiaomi, now that the company’s global business “is no longer just an in-house startup,” he wrote.

But Barra’s real motivation for leaving Beijing and returning to Silicon Valley now is personal, he said. “The last few years of living in such a singular environment have taken a huge toll on my life and started affecting my health.”

He also said he wanted to be closer to friends, family and what he considered to be his home.

Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun has asked him to remain an advisor to Xiaomi indefinitely, Barra wrote. He will remain with the company until after the Lunar New Year, which will be celebrated at the beginning of February this year.

Barra announced his move on Twitter and Facebook, a contrast with his departure from Google, which he announced on Google Plus. His public profile there appears not to have been updated in 18 months.

Intel works on next-generation Optane SSD, memory technologies

“Every gamer is going to want to have 3D Xpoint. Every single gamer.”Intel Optane

Those were words from Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich when updating investors on the company’s Optane technology, which the chipmaker believes could ultimately replace SSDs and DRAM in PCs and servers.

Intel is now shipping the first-generation Optane but is also working on next-generation technologies as looks to increase density in this new class of storage and memory.

Intel says Optane is significantly denser and faster than SSDs and DRAM. It is based on a technology called 3D Xpoint, co-developed with Micron.

The chipmaker looks at Optane as the Moore’s Law of storage. With future generations, Intel wants to make the memory smaller, denser and cheaper, and that’s driving the development of Optane.

That’s good news for users. Initial Optane SSDs may be expensive, but prices will go down as the manufacturing cost-per-bit is driven down. Storage will be faster as Optane will bring data closer to the CPU.

Intel has talked about some uses for Optane. Games will run faster with chapters pre-loaded in Optane SSDs. Optane could also be used for analytics and machine learning, which need to move data in and out of storage faster. Intel’s ultimate goal with Optane is to unify memory and storage, but that goal could still be a long time out.

Micron is also delivering its own brand of 3D Xpoint products under the QuantX brand. Last week Micron said it is also working on its future 3D Xpoint technologies.

Intel’s low-capacity Optane will be available for laptops in the second quarter. The company has already started shipping the first Optane DIMMs for testing.

The company has also qualified and shipped the first test Optane SSDs to data centers, Rob Crooke, senior vice president and general manager of the Non-Volatile Memory Solutions Group at Intel, said during a speech Thursday at the company’s investor day meeting.

Enterprise SSDs are typically high in capacity. Memory and storage for enterprises based on 3D Xpoint will disrupt DRAM and SSDs in servers, said Diane Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of the Data Center Group at Intel.

Intel’s projections for Optane in 2017 are modest. Crooke characterized it more as an “investment year,” with money being poured into factories and research. The total 2017 revenue will be less than 5 percent of Intel’s storage revenue.

Storage and memory aren’t major revenue generators for Intel, totaling just US$816 million in the fourth quarter of 2016. Total Intel revenue for the quarter was $16.4 billion, with a bulk coming from PC and server chip sales.

Android privacy assistant seeks to stop unwanted data collection

Not sure what your phone is collecting about you? A free Android app is promising to simplify the privacy settings on your smartphone, and stop any unwanted data collection.dsc05694

The English language app, called Privacy Assistant, comes from a team at Carnegie Mellon University, who’ve built it after six years of research studying digital privacy.

“It’s very clear that a large percentage of people are not willing to give their data to any random app,” said CMU professor Norman Sadeh. “They want to be more selective with their data, so this assistant will help them do that.”

Their Privacy Assistant is designed to automatically modify your phone’s privacy settings for you, based on your views about certain types of data collection.

For instance, when the app first starts up, it’ll ask you three to five questions to gauge your privacy preferences. How do you feel about your social media accessing your camera? Or what about game apps pulling your location data?


From those answers, the app will recommend a particular set of privacy settings you should consider. Users can then approve the recommendations or alter them, accordingly.

The assistant may sound enticing, but it comes with a catch. The software only works with Android 5.x and 6.x phones that have been rooted — which most Android users haven’t done.

Rooting a phone means gaining root access to the Android operating system, opening it up to full customization. But the act can also void your phone’s warranty or brick the phone, if done improperly.

Computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon have previously published research, showing that users are often alarmed when they learn their smartphone apps have been collecting their private data like locations.

Users, however, can face a cumbersome task when modifying their phone’s privacy settings or the app permissions.

“A typical Android user has between 50 and 100 apps, and these apps can require three permissions,” Sadeh said. “So you do the math, and the number of permissions can be overwhelming.”

Many apps are also collecting private user data when they don’t really need it, he said. The Privacy Assistant is designed to revoke those permissions, without causing any malfunctions with the offending app.

As the user downloads more software, the Privacy Assistant will continue to work in the background, recommending what new app permissions should be approved or denied.

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With root access, the CMU team’s Privacy Assistant app is able to automatically apply new permission settings to the phone. However, Sadeh estimates that only about 25 percent of all Android smartphones in the world are rooted and many of those are located in Asia.

He doesn’t recommend people root their phone just to use this app. But Sadeh believes his team’s Privacy Assistant will attract a “sizable population” of existing users who are concerned about their online privacy.

The app is also part of the researchers’ larger efforts to streamline privacy settings. The hope is that Google, Apple, and device manufacturers will notice the benefits offered by their Privacy Assistant and incorporate the technology into their products.

Google is among those funding the university’s work on online privacy, Sadeh said.

“People like this stuff,” he added. A smartphone manufacturer “would have an advantage over your competitors if you ended up putting this on the smartphone you sell to customers.”

Roku upgrade guide: Should you buy a new box?

Out of all the companies making streaming TV devices today, Roku is the most prolific, having released more than two dozen streaming players and sticks over the last eight years.rokustreamingstick

With so many Roku players in the wild, the decision on when to upgrade can be daunting. I’m generally in favor of keeping what you have for as long as you can tolerate it; but if you’re curious what you’re missing by holding out on upgrading to a new Roku, here’s a rundown.

 Roku N1000, Roku SD (N1050), Roku HD (N1100 and 2000), Roku HD-XR (N1101), Roku XD (2050), and Roku XDS (2100).

Roku N1000, Roku SD (N1050), Roku HD (N1100 and 2000), Roku HD-XR (N1101), Roku XD (2050), and Roku XDS (2100).


Many older Roku models—including any that launched in 2012 or earlier—run an outdated version of Netflix that doesn’t support profiles. That means users can’t get individualized recommendations or access to “Kids” mode. Avid Netflix users might want to upgrade, if only to cut down on wasted time browsing through irrelevant content.

Roku N1000, Roku SD (N1050), Roku HD (N1100, 2000, and 2500), Roku HD-XR (N1101), Roku XD (2050 and 3050), Roku XDS (2100), Roku LT (2400, 2450, 2700), Roku 2 HD (3000), Roku 2 XD (3050), Roku 2 XS (3100), Roku Streaming Stick MHL (3400, 3420), Roku 1 and SE (2710), and Roku 2 (2720).


Some older Roku players don’t support full high-definition video (1080p); they’re limited to high definition (720p) or standard definition (480p). The newest players start at full high definition (1080p), and some support 4K (2160p) resolution and HDR (high dynamic range). If you care deeply about picture quality and have a television that supports these formats, it’s time to consider an upgrade.

Roku N1000, Roku SD (N1050), Roku HD (N1100, 2000, and 2500), Roku LT (2400, 2450, and 2700), and Roku 2 HD (3000).

All Roku players except Roku 4, Roku Premiere, Roku Premiere+, and Roku Ultra. (Premiere+ and Ultra also support HDR.)

Roku feature chart

Many early Roku remotes—and some current ones—use infrared instead of radio frequency to communicate with the box. This requires line of sight, which precludes you from mounting the Roku behind the television or hiding it inside an entertainment center cabinet. IR can also be unreliable at long range. (The only upside to IR-enabled Rokus: They’ll work with lower-end programmable universal remotes, such as Logitech Harmony models that don’t support RF.)

All Roku players except Roku Streaming Stick (3400, 3420, 3500, 3600), Roku 3 (all versions), Roku 4, Roku

One of Roku’s neatest features is its ability to play audio through headphones, either with a supported remote control or with Roku’s mobile app. It’s a nice way to watch action films at night without waking the kids.

Roku 3 (4200 and 4230), Roku 4, Roku Premiere+, and Roku Ultra.

All Roku players except Roku Express, Roku Express+, Roku Streaming Stick (3600), Roku Premiere, Roku Premiere+, and Roku Ultra.

Roku Premiere+ and Roku Ultra

Both the Roku Premiere+ and Roku Ultra let you plug headphones into their remotes.

In recent years, Roku has introduced a handy feature for the forgetful: Press a button on the box, and a siren will sound on the remote to help you find it. Unfortunately, this feature has only been available on the priciest players.

All Roku players except Roku 4 or Roku Ultra.

With a dual-band wireless router, you can get a more reliable connection on the less-congested 5GHz frequency band, but only if your device supports it. Many older Roku models only support single-band Wi-Fi, and even some recent ones don’t support the latest 802.11ac standard. Consider upgrading if your Roku’s streaming quality doesn’t seem to match your internet speed and/or your router’s capabilities.

All Roku players except Roku 4, Roku Premiere, Roku Premiere+, and Roku Ultra.

Roku players have generally become much more powerful over the past few years, allowing you to scroll smoothly through menus and load apps without delay. If you’re frustrated by the performance of your current Roku, consider upgrading to one of the models below.

All Roku players except Roku 3, Roku 4, Roku Streaming Stick (3600), Roku Premiere, Roku Premiere+, and Roku Ultra.

Roku, of course, isn’t the only streaming-device maker on the market. Although Roku’s Premiere+ and Streaming Stick are fine options, you might also want to consider the competition. Check out our reviews of the Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Nvidia Shield TV, and Chromecast for more details.

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This story, “Roku upgrade guide: Should you buy a new box?” was originally published by TechHive.

U.S. idea to collect travelers’ passwords alarms privacy experts

To better vet foreign travelers, the U.S. might demand that some visa applicants hand over the passwords to their social media accounts, a proposal that’s alarming privacy experts.32310283740 71a7cbc128 o

“If they don’t want to give us the information, then they don’t come,” said John Kelly, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, on Tuesday.

Kelly mentioned the proposal in a congressional hearing when he was asked what his department was doing to look at visa applicants’ social media activity.

He said it was “very hard to truly vet” the visa applicants from the seven Muslim-majority countries covered by the Trump administration’s travel ban, which is now in legal limbo. Many of the countries are failed states with little internal infrastructure, he said.

Learning what social media services visa applicants use and asking for their passwords might become part of the vetting process, Kelly said.

The department is only “thinking about” this idea, Kelly said. But in December, U.S. Customs and Border Protection began asking foreign visitors traveling under a visa waiver program to provide their social media account IDs as an optional request.

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John Kelly, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

That move was designed to help U.S. authorities spot “nefarious activity.” However, privacy and free-speech advocates said the U.S might use the information to unfairly keep certain visitors out of the country.

A key concern is that the U.S. is relying on someone’s political ideology to vet their entry, said Michael Macleod-Ball, chief of staff with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office.

“The issue is what information are they (U.S. border agents) looking for, and how are they interpreting it,” he said. “We’ve had all kinds of concerns over the ambiguities.”

News that the Department of Homeland Security is thinking about expanding social media monitoring by demanding passwords rattled some experts.

“The price for admission into the United States shouldn’t mean giving up your online life,” said Robert McCaw, government affairs department director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

He sees too much potential for the U.S. to unfairly target Muslim groups.

“Do you remember every email account, or Facebook account, or every message board you signed up for?” he asked. “If you forgot to disclose one, wouldn’t you be lying to a federal agency?”

Many Muslim travelers coming to the U.S. also have kin or business associates in the country. Tracking their social media activity would inevitably mean the monitoring of Muslim U.S. citizens, he said.

“This will have a chilling effect on how people communicate with each other online,” he said.

From a security standpoint, demanding visa applicants hand over passwords and then storing them might be a huge problem in itself. The government hardly has a stellar record in keeping its own databases safe from hackers, said Christopher Dore, a partner at privacy law firm Edelson PC.

“The threat of a data breach to all that password information would be a huge danger to all those individuals,” he said. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Others think the DHS’s proposal is pointless and note that U.S. intelligence agencies, such as the National Security Agency, are already mining the internet for hints about terrorist activity.

“It’s pretty obvious that if you’re a terrorist you can create a dummy social media profile,” said Timothy Edgar, academic director of Brown University’s Executive Master in Cybersecurity program.

“Anyone who has an ounce of sense, and is plotting to do something bad, is going to get around this policy very easily,” he said.

Edgar said demanding passwords from visa applicants will probably dissuade certain foreign travelers, especially college students, from coming to the U.S.

The impact could spread, too. Other countries might try to follow the U.S. example and demand travelers at their borders also give up their passwords

“We are giving another excuse to the worst authoritarian governments to engage in widespread surveillance of social media accounts,” he said. “When a major country adopts a practice, that tends to validate it.”

Best Buy closes nearly half of its Oculus Rift VR demo stations

If you’re hoping to get a hands-on demo with an Oculus Rift anytime soon, your options just got slimmer. Business Insider reports that 200 of Best Buy’s 500 Rift demo stations are being shuttered, making virtual reality a bit less accessible to the masses.oculus rift 3

There’s conflicting information about why this is happening, with Oculus’s “seasonal changes” explanation implying it’s a standard post-holiday scale back. Best Buy workers reportedly told Business Insider “It was common for them to go days without giving a single demonstration” though, which sounds a bit more damning for the program as a whole.

And I can’t really blame them. While I agree with Oculus that demos are essential to selling people on virtual reality—it’s really the only way to “get” it—I can’t help but wince thinking about the beat-up, grimy demo stations I used as a kid to try out new consoles. I’m flashing back to grabbing that Nintendo 64 controller and hoping that it’s not broken, or covered in the accumulated Kool-Aid and Cheez-Its from 100 kids before you.

Then imagine the same situation, except it goes on your face.

Yeah, VR demo environments are already gross enough at conventions, and that’s just one weekend’s worth of use. An ongoing Rift installation at your local Best Buy? I could see how people would be less-than-thrilled to give it a try.

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Of course there are plenty of other explanations. Maybe your average Best Buy visitor isn’t tech-savvy enough to care about virtual reality. Maybe there wasn’t enough word-of-mouth buzz to reach the people who would be interested. Maybe Oculus has just garnered too much bad press of late.

Maybe people just aren’t interested in virtual reality.

That last one would be most disappointing to me, though signs so far point to companies (at least the ones who make hardware) sticking it out for the long game. When Oculus or HTC throws in the towel, then I think VR enthusiasts can be worried. A few demo stations shutting down? Maybe a red flag, or maybe just a victim of circumstance.

And for its part, Oculus seems committed to a smarter demo strategy. Best Buy will still have Rifts on-hand, though live demos will be limited to just the larger markets. Oculus also told Business Insider, “We’re going to find opportunities to do regular events and pop ups in retail locations and local communities throughout the year.”

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, well, keep an ear to the ground.