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LastPass Will Warn You If Your Passwords Show Up On the Dark Web

Wed, 2020-08-05 23:45
LastPass is updating its Security Dashboard with a feature that provides an overview of all your accounts, highlighting any passwords that could pose a security risk. The password manager is also introducing dark web monitoring, although it will require you to be a paid LastPass subscriber. Engadget reports: If you already use LastPass and the Security Dashboard sounds familiar, it's because it builds on the Security Challenge functionality LastPass developer LogMeIn added in 2010. As before, grading is a major aspect of the interface. When you first navigate to the Security Dashboard, you'll see a score of all your logins, followed by a breakdown of passwords that are either old, inactive, weak or reused. You can click or tap on a problematic password to change it, and LastPass will automatically take you to the webpage where you can update your login information. LogMeIn hasn't changed how the app calculates the overall score it gives to each user. But one significant improvement the Security Dashboard brings over the Security Challenge is that you don't need to manually run it each time you want to see the security of your online accounts. The score and steps you can take to improve your online security are there each time you visit that part of the software's interface. With today's update, LogMeIn is also introducing dark web monitoring. When you enable the feature, LastPass will proactively check your online accounts against Enzoic's compromised credentials database. If it detects an issue, it will notify you through both email and the app. Dark web monitoring is available to LastPass Premium, Family and Business subscribers. The dashboard, by contrast, is available to all LastPass users.

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Categories: Technology

Chrome for Android May Soon Send Notifications Reminding You To Use Chrome

Wed, 2020-08-05 23:05
An anonymous reader shares a report: For years now, Google Chrome has been an absolute dominant force in the world of web browsers, but since the relaunch of Microsoft Edge based on Google's Chromium, that position has been challenged. Now, Google is preparing to drive more Android owners back to using Chrome through targeted notifications. Over the admittedly brief history of the Internet, there have been a number of fierce competitions, commonly called "browser wars," between companies, in an effort to get more people to use their particular web browser. Mozilla and Netscape waged war against Internet Explorer, and Chrome fought and won against Firefox. Most recently, Microsoft Edge and Samsung Internet have begun to wage war against Chrome on desktop and Android respectively. Now, we've found that Google is preparing to try and win back some of those who have left Chrome for other browsers, starting on Android. Based on our reading of a series of code changes, we believe Google Chrome for Android will send you a notification if you haven't used Chrome in a while.

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Microsoft Integrates Android Apps Into Windows 10 With New 'Your Phone' Update

Wed, 2020-08-05 22:25
Microsoft is now allowing Windows 10 users to run Android apps side by side with Windows applications on a PC. The Verge reports: It's part of a new feature in Your Phone, and it builds upon the mirroring that Microsoft's Your Phone app already provides. You can now access a list of Android apps in Microsoft's Your Phone app and launch these mobile apps accordingly. These will run in a separate window outside of the Your Phone app, mirrored from your phone. This new Android app support also allows Windows 10 users to multitask with other Windows apps with alt+tab support, and you'll even be able to pin these Android apps to the Windows 10 taskbar or Start menu. The ability to launch apps directly from Your Phone means you no longer have to search around on a mirrored experience of your phone, you can simply pin your favorite Android apps to the taskbar and run them as if they're regular Windows apps. Microsoft warns that not all Android apps will work seamlessly with this new Your Phone feature. Currently, only Samsung handsets work with the feature, but more devices should be supported "later this year."

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New York Unveils Landmark Antitrust Bill That Makes It Easier To Sue Tech Giants

Wed, 2020-08-05 21:45
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: New York state is introducing a bill that would make it easier to sue big tech companies for alleged abuses of their monopoly powers. Bill S8700A, [The Twenty-First Century Anti-Trust Act] now being discussed by New York's senate consumer protection committee, would update New York's antiquated antitrust laws for the 21st century, said the bill's sponsor, Senator Mike Gianaris. "Their power has grown to dangerous levels and we need to start reining them in," he said. New York's antitrust laws currently require two players to collaborate in a conspiracy to conduct anticompetitive behavior such as price setting. In other cases companies may underprice products to the point where they are even incurring a loss just to drive others out of the market -- anticompetitive behavior that New York's laws would currently struggle to prosecute. "Our laws on antitrust in New York are a century old and they were built for a completely different economy," said Gianaris. "Much of the problem today in the 21st century is unilateral action by some of these behemoth tech companies and this bill would allow, for the first time, New York to engage in antitrust enforcement for unilateral action." The bill will probably be discussed when New York's senate returns to work in August but is unlikely to pass before next year. It has the support of New York's attorney general, Letitia James. "The bill would make criminal offenses by individuals punishable by up to 15 years in prison," adds Engadget, "That's up from four years under the existing law. It's also more time than the current federal maximum sentence of 10 years." "Corporations could be fined up to $100 million, up from the current maximum New York state penalty of $1 million. The proposed changes would also allow class action lawsuits, which could lead to an increase in private antitrust litigation."

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Twitter Hack Zoom Court Hearing Interrupted by Loud Music and Porn

Wed, 2020-08-05 21:02
From a report: A judge was forced to suspend the virtual bond hearing of the 17-year-old accused of being the "mastermind" behind the recent massive Twitter hack, after several people got into the Zoom meeting posing as CNN and BBC staffers and played loud music and even a porn video. Multiple reporters who attended the hearing via Zoom on Wednesday confirmed the incident. According to independent security journalist Brian Krebs, the problem was that the judge and his clerks did not set up the meeting in a way that would mute attendees and prevent them from taking over the screen (these are features that can be easily set when one creates a Zoom meeting). "Judges holding hearings over Zoom need to get a clue," Krebs wrote on Twitter.

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Facebook Must Better Police Online Hate, State Attorneys General Say

Wed, 2020-08-05 20:24
Twenty state attorneys general on Wednesday called on Facebook to better prevent messages of hate, bias and disinformation from spreading, and said the company needed to provide more help to users facing online abuse. From a report: In a letter [PDF] to the social media giant, the officials said they regularly encountered people facing online intimidation and harassment on Facebook. They outlined seven steps the company should take, including allowing third-party audits of hate content and offering real-time assistance to users. "We hope to work with you to ensure that fewer individuals suffer online harassment and discrimination, and that it is quickly and effectively addressed when they do," said the letter, which was addressed to Facebook's chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. The officials who signed the letter, all of them Democrats, represent states including New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California, as well as the District of Columbia. The letter adds to the rising pressure facing Mr. Zuckerberg and his company to stop disinformation and harassment on Facebook. Civil rights leaders, advertisers and some of the company's own employees have criticized Facebook for failing to curtail the spread of noxious content. Extremists and conspiracists have turned to social media -- most often Facebook, Twitter and YouTube -- to circulate falsehoods about the coronavirus pandemic, the coming presidential election and Black Lives Matter protests. Facebook and other social media companies have made some changes to dismantle misinformation and hate on their services. Last month, Twitter announced that it would remove thousands of accounts associated with the fringe conspiracy movement QAnon, saying their messages could lead to harm and violated Twitter policy. In June, Facebook took down a network of accounts tied to boogaloo, an antigovernment movement in the United States that encourages violence. That same month, YouTube banned six channels for violating its policies, including those of two prominent white supremacists, David Duke and Richard Spencer. But according to the attorneys general, Facebook in particular has not done enough. The officials pointed to Facebook's recent Civil Rights Audit -- which found that advertisers could still run ads that painted a religious group as a threat to the "American way of life" -- as evidence that the social network had fallen short. "Facebook has a hate speech, discrimination, disinformation problem," Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, of New Jersey, who led the letter, said in an interview. "The way I view it, as an attorney general, is that it directly affects public safety in my state, that the groups that are allowed to find community online, on Facebook, allow hate to be normalized."

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Canon Hit by Maze Ransomware Attack, 10TB Data Allegedly Stolen

Wed, 2020-08-05 19:46
Canon has suffered a ransomware attack that impacts numerous services, including Canon's email, Microsoft Teams, USA website, and other internal applications. From a report: BleepingComputer has been tracking a suspicious outage on Canon's image.canon cloud photo and video storage service resulting in the loss of data for users of their free 10GB storage feature. The image.canon site suffered an outage on July 30th, 2020, and over six days, the site would show status updates until it went back in service yesterday, August 4th. However, the final status update was strange as it mentions that while data was lost, "there was no leak of image data." This led BleepingComputer to believe there was more to the story and that they suffered a cyberattack. [...] Today, a source contacted BleepingComputer and shared an image of a company-wide notification titled "Message from IT Service Center" that was sent at approximately 6 AM this morning from Canon's IT department.

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Instagram Displayed Negative Related Hashtags For Biden, But Hid Them For Trump

Wed, 2020-08-05 19:05
An anonymous reader shares a report: For at least the last two months, a key Instagram feature, which algorithmically pushes users toward supposedly related content, has been treating hashtags associated with President Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in very different ways. Searches for Biden also return a variety of pro-Trump messages, while searches for Trump-related topics only returned the specific hashtags, like #MAGA or #Trump -- which means searches for Biden-related hashtags also return counter-messaging, while those for Trump do not. Earlier this week, a search on Instagram for #JoeBiden would have surfaced nearly 390,000 posts tagged with the former vice president's name along with related hashtags selected by the platform's algorithm. Users searching Instagram for #JoeBiden might also see results for #joebiden2020, as well as pro-Trump hashtags like #trump2020landslide and #democratsdestroyamerica. A similar search for #DonaldTrump on the platform, however, provided a totally different experience. Besides showing 7 million posts tagged with the president's name, Instagram did not present any related hashtags that would have pushed users toward different content or promoted alternative viewpoints. The difference between these two results, which an Instagram spokesperson told BuzzFeed News was a "bug," prevented hashtags including #Trump and #MAGA from being associated with potentially negative content. Meanwhile, Instagram hashtags associated with the Democratic presidential candidate -- #JoeBiden and #Biden, for example -- were presented alongside content that included overtly pro-Trump content and attacks on the former vice president.

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Twitter Says Android Security Bug Gave Access To Direct Messages

Wed, 2020-08-05 18:28
Twitter says a security bug may have exposed the private direct messages of its Android app users, but said that there was no evidence that the vulnerability was ever exploited. From a report: The bug could have allowed a malicious Android app running on the same device to siphon off a user's direct messages stored in the Twitter app by bypassing Android's in-built data permissions. But, Twitter said that the bug only worked on Android 8 (Oreo) and Android 9 (Pie), and has since been fixed. A Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch that the bug was reported by a security researcher "a few weeks ago" through HackerOne, which Twitter uses for its bug bounty program. "Since then, we have been working to keep accounts secure," said the spokesperson. "Now that the issue has been fixed, we're letting people know." Twitter said it waited to let its users know in order to prevent someone from learning about the issue and taking advantage of it before it was fixed.

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Apple and Google's COVID-19 Tracking System Will Make Its Full US Debut in New Virginia App

Wed, 2020-08-05 17:55
This week, Virginia plans to release a COVID-19 exposure notification app based on the specifications published by Apple and Google in April. From a report: The app, called COVIDWISE, is the first fully deployed implementation of Apple and Google's system in the US and was beta tested by the state department of health. The specification is designed to preserve patient privacy, particularly around their location and whether they have tested positive for COVID-19. "No location data or personal information is ever collected, stored or transmitted to VDH as part of the app," a health department official told Virginia Public Media, which first reported the news. "You can delete the app or turn off exposure notifications at any time." If someone tests positive for the coronavirus, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will give them a PIN number that they can choose to use to report that result within the app. Then, other users of the app should get a notification if their phones were near the sick person at some point in the past 14 days. However, those notifications will only go out to phones when the exposure met a threshold for a strength and duration of the Bluetooth signal that can be estimated as a user being within six feet of the other user for 15 minutes (based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's definition of "close contact").

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The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Has Lasers, Plays Xbox Games, And is Just Massive

Wed, 2020-08-05 17:04
Samsung today unveiled two Galaxy Note 20 models -- the Note 20 (which starts at $999) and Note 20 Ultra (which starts at $1,299) -- arriving later this month on August 21. Both Note 20 smartphones come with an S Pen, but there are some major differences. Notably, the screen and the cameras are a little bit different. From a report: The smaller Note 20 has a 6.7-inch display with flat edges and the larger Note 20 Ultra has a 6.9-inch 120Hz screen with curved sides. Curved glass has long been a signature design on Samsung phones and it looks like the company is at least considering a change. But the one thing I'm most excited for is the Note 20 Ultra's 108-megapixel camera. This is the same image sensor on the S20 Ultra with one important change: a laser sensor that enables faster autofocusing. In other words: Samsung says it has fixed the S20 Ultra's autofocusing issues on the Note 20 Ultra. I'll test that out soon enough to verify the claim, but for now, here's everything else you need to know about the Note 20 phones. Expand to a TV with DeX: In addition to plugging your Note 20 into a laptop or monitor to turn it into a desktop-like computer experience with DeX mode, Note 20 users can wirelessly connect to a TV with Miracast support. Samsung says all of its 2019 and newer smart TVs support the wireless DeX mode. Smarter Windows integration: Samsung's growing partnership with Microsoft is yielding even tighter synergy between its devices and Windows 10. Samsung says Windows 10 will let you run multiple Note 20 apps simultaneously later this year and has better drag-and-drop support between devices. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: If you're a gamer, you'll be able to stream over 100 Xbox games directly to the Note 20 phones with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. This feature doesn't go live until September 15. Ultra-wideband: Like the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, the Note 20 phones have an ultra-wideband chip inside. Samsung says UWB will allow people to share files to another UWB-supported device by pointing them at each other. UWB can also be used to unlock smart locks (for homes or cars).

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White House Unveils Partnership To Boost Quantum Science Education

Wed, 2020-08-05 16:26
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said on Wednesday the Trump administration is launching a national education partnership to expand access to K-12 quantum information science (QIS) education with major companies and research institutions. From a report: The public-private initiative with the National Science Foundation includes Amazon's Amazon Web Services, Boeing, Alphabet's Google, IBM Corp, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, the University of Illinois and University of Chicago. The National Science Foundation is also awarding $1 million to QIS education. The initiative is designed in part to help introduce students to quantum information themes before college.

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Facebook's Instagram Launches TikTok Copycat in Political Storm

Wed, 2020-08-05 15:49
Facebook's Instagram photo-sharing app is launching its clone of TikTok in more than 50 countries, a week after Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg defended the company's copycat strategies to U.S. lawmakers at an antitrust hearing. From a report: The product, called Reels, lets people edit 15-second clips of videos together alongside music, just like on TikTok. It will be embedded into Instagram in the U.S. and elsewhere, the company said Wednesday in blog post. Reels is the second major Instagram feature that follows an almost identical one popularized by a competitor. Instagram Stories, the tool for posting videos and photos that disappear, was inspired by Snap. Reels isn't Facebook's first attempt at challenging TikTok. Facebook's Lasso, a separate application with similar features that was tested in limited markets, was shut down last month after it failed to win over an audience. Reels may have better luck: it's launching just as TikTok's existence in the U.S. is being challenged by President Donald Trump.

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FBI Issues Warning Over Windows 7 End-of-Life

Wed, 2020-08-05 15:01
The Federal Bureau of Investigation sent a private industry notification (PIN) on Monday to partners in the US private sector about the dangers of continuing to use Windows 7 after the operating system reached its official end-of-life (EOL) earlier this year. From a report: "The FBI has observed cyber criminals targeting computer network infrastructure after an operating system achieves end of life status," the agency said. "Continuing to use Windows 7 within an enterprise may provide cyber criminals access in to computer systems. As time passes, Windows 7 becomes more vulnerable to exploitation due to lack of security updates and new vulnerabilities discovered. "With fewer customers able to maintain a patched Windows 7 system after its end of life, cyber criminals will continue to view Windows 7 as a soft target," the FBI warned. The Bureau is now asking companies to look into upgrading their workstations to newer versions of the Windows operating system.

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Anthony Levandowski Sentenced To 18 Months In Prison, As New $4 Billion Lawsuit Against Uber Is Filed

Wed, 2020-08-05 14:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer and serial entrepreneur who was at the center of a lawsuit between Uber and Waymo, has been sentenced to 18 months on one count of stealing trade secrets. Judge Alsup said that home confinement would "[give] a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets. Prison time is the answer to that." During court proceedings today, Levandowski also agreed to pay $756,499.22 in restitution to Google and a fine of $95,000. "Today marks the end of three and a half long years and the beginning of another long road ahead. I'm thankful to my family and friends for their continued love and support during this difficult time," Levandowski said in a statement provided by his attorneys after the sentencing. The sentencing is the latest in a series of legal blows that have seen Levandowski vilified as a thieving tech bro, unceremoniously ejected from Uber, and forced into bankruptcy by a $179 million award against him. And yet, Levandowski is not skulking away. Even as he faced years in prison, the maverick engineer was plotting a comeback that could see him netting upwards of $4 billion from Uber. TechCrunch has learned that Levandowski recently filed a lawsuit making explosive claims against Waymo and Uber that, if proven, could turn his fortunes around with a multi-billion dollar payout. Whether this is a last-ditch effort by a desperate man whose career has been upended by his own poor choices or a viable claim against a double-dealing tech titan, will be up to the courts to decide. This new lawsuit, filed as part of Levandowski's bankruptcy proceedings, mostly focuses on Uber's agreement to indemnify Levandowski against legal action when it bought his self-trucking company, Otto Trucking. It also includes new allegations concerning the settlement that Waymo and Uber reached over trade secret theft claims.

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Hacker Leaks Passwords For 900+ Enterprise VPN Servers

Wed, 2020-08-05 11:00
A hacker has published today a list of plaintext usernames and passwords, along with IP addresses for more than 900 Pulse Secure VPN enterprise servers. ZDNet reports: According to a review, the list includes: IP addresses of Pulse Secure VPN servers, Pulse Secure VPN server firmware version, SSH keys for each server, a list of all local users and their password hashes, admin account details, last VPN logins (including usernames and cleartext passwords), and VPN session cookies. Bank Security, a threat intelligence analyst specialized in financial crime [...] noted that all the Pulse Secure VPN servers included in the list were running a firmware version vulnerable to the CVE-2019-11510 vulnerability. Bank Security believes that the hacker who compiled this list scanned the entire internet IPv4 address space for Pulse Secure VPN servers, used an exploit for the CVE-2019-11510 vulnerability to gain access to systems, dump server details (including usernames and passwords), and then collected all the information in one central repository. Making matters worse, the list has been shared on a hacker forum that is frequented by multiple ransomware gangs. For example, the REvil (Sodinokibi), NetWalker, Lockbit, Avaddonm, Makop, and Exorcist ransomware gangs have threads on the same forum, and use it to recruit members (developers) and affiliates (customers). Many of these gangs perform intrusions into corporate networks by leveraging network edge devices like Pulse Secure VPN servers, and then deploy their ransomware payload and demand huge ransom demands. As Bank Security told ZDNet, companies have to patch their Pulse Secure VPNs and change passwords with the utmost urgency.

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Riot Games Addresses Burnout and Crunch By Giving Employees a Week Off

Wed, 2020-08-05 08:00
Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends and Valorant, will be giving employees the week of August 10th off to "disconnect, recharge, and reboot," the studio announced in a blog post published Tuesday. The Verge reports: Riot has recently expanded beyond its global smash hit League of Legends, including releasing auto battler Teamfight Tactics, Hearthstone-like card game Legends of Runeterra (which are both set in the League of Legends universe), and Valorant, a brand-new tactical shooter that takes cues from Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch. But in an industry known for overwork and enforced overtime, referred to as "crunch," to ship and maintain games, Riot is giving employees a break to help with their health. "As game developers, we're all hyper aware of the effects of crunch and project-based deadlines," Riot said in its blog. "We owe it to ourselves and to you to prioritize our health as a team (well, many teams) so we can bring you new experiences long into the future." Riot also said it would be "shifting some patches and release timelines a bit" to accommodate the break and that "a few teams are also staggering their time off to make sure everything is running smoothly."

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Hackers Could Use IoT Botnets To Manipulate Energy Markets

Wed, 2020-08-05 04:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Wired: At the Black Hat security conference on Wednesday, [researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology] will present their findings, which suggest that high-wattage IoT botnets -- made up of power-guzzling devices like air conditioners, car chargers, and smart thermostats -- could be deployed strategically to increase demand at certain times in any of the nine private energy markets around the US. A savvy attacker, they say, would be able to stealthily force price fluctuations in the service of profit, chaos, or both. The researchers used real, publicly available data from the New York and California markets between May 2018 and May 2019 to study fluctuations in both the "day-ahead market" that forecasts demand and the "real-time market," in which buyers and sellers correct for forecasting errors and unpredictable events like natural disasters. By modeling how much power various hypothetical high-wattage IoT botnets could draw, and crunching the market data, the researchers devised two types of potential attacks that would alter energy pricing. They also figured out how far hackers would be able to push their attacks without the malicious activity raising red flags. "Our basic assumption is that we have access to a high-wattage IoT botnet," says Tohid Shekari, a PhD candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology who contributed to the research, along with fellow PhD candidate Celine Irvine and professor Raheem Beyah. "In our scenarios, attacker one is a market player; he's basically trying to maximize his own profit. Attacker two is a nation-state actor who can cause financial damage to market players as part of a trade war or cold war. The basic part of either attack is to look at price-load sensitivity. If we change demand by 1 percent, how much is the price going to change as a result of that? You want to optimize the attack to maximize the gain or damage." An attacker could use their botnet's power to increase demand, for instance, when other entities are betting it will be low. Or they could bet that demand will go up at a certain time with certainty that they can make that happen. "The researchers caution that, based on their analysis, much smaller demand fluctuations than you might expect could affect pricing, and that it would take as few as 50,000 infected devices to pull off an impactful attack," the report adds. "Consumers whose devices are unwittingly conscripted into a high-wattage botnet would also be unlikely to notice anything amiss; attackers could intentionally turn on devices to pull power late at night or while people are likely to be out of the house. [...] The researchers calculated that market manipulation campaigns would cause, at most, a 7 percent increase in consumers' home electric bills, likely low enough to go unnoticed." The researchers say market manipulators could take home as much as $245 million a year, and cause as much as $350 million per year in economic damage.

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Honda Recalls 608,000 Vehicles For Faulty Software

Wed, 2020-08-05 03:03
Honda is recalling 608,000 vans and SUVs because of faulty software that can, among other things, cause the backup camera to fail and the driver display to malfunction or reboot. The recalls will begin on September 23rd. The Verge reports: Certain 2018-2020 Odysseys, 2019-2020 Passports, and 2019-2021 Pilots were outfitted with "[i]ncorrect instrument panel control module software" that can cause the display to not show critical information like speed, engine oil pressure, and gear selector position until the car is turned off and on again. The displays can also randomly reboot, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The malfunctioning software can also prevent the backup camera feed from showing up. Honda will notify owners, but they'll have to get the software reprogrammed by a dealer. No easy over-the-air software fix here. Another recall involves 500,000 of those same vehicles -- the 2019-2021 Pilots and the 2019-2020 Passports again, but only 2019-2020 Odysseys. These vehicles also have a problem with their "[i]ncorrect central network software programming" that can cause "several errors to occur that can delay or prevent the rearview camera image from displaying." The issue can also mess with the in-car audio. Owners of these cars will have the option of either downloading an over-the-air fix or visiting a dealer. Honda also announced two other recalls on Tuesday for some of these vehicles. Some 2019-2020 Odysseys were outfitted with faulty backup cameras that have developed distorted images over time, while 2018-2020 Odysseys may have a problem with the sliding door latching.

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Virtual House Hunting Gets a Pandemic Boost

Wed, 2020-08-05 02:25
Padraig Belton from the BBC writes about how house hunters are using virtual-reality headsets to tour homes in the age of coronavirus. From the report: It's not for everyone as, at the moment, house hunters have to use their own headsets. But Giles Milner, marketing director at estate agent Chestertons, says he will sometimes send buyers headsets for new-build properties, if a development has multiple near-identical apartments with some still being built. "Developers are often selling off-plan, and it's hard to sell a product just on a 2D floor plan," he says. "So developers these days have virtual tours budgeted in from the start." Once you have a headset, it's a fairly simple process to find a virtual property on the estate agent's website, using a hand controller to work a virtual keyboard. It's still a fairly limited option, at the moment just 8% of Zoopla's listings have an option for a virtual tour. But Zoopla says there was a surge of activity during the first month of lockdown, when virtual reality (VR) viewings of new-build properties tripled. [...] Virtual reality offers greater detail than the traditional photos on a website. It also saves time for estate agents and is safer for everyone: "The last thing you want is for your staff members to get struck down with Covid-19," Mr Shipside says. Growing adoption of VR viewing also makes life easier for clients moving internationally, when travel back and forth is hard. Buyers from mainland China looking at homes in Singapore have to observe the country's strict fortnight quarantine on nearly all arrivals. So it makes sense to treat buying a house "just like online shopping," says Christopher Wang, founder of Imme VR, a Singaporean virtual-reality property company. A coming use of all this technology is letting prospective sellers find their property's value without estate agents visiting. Another will be letting possible buyers see a property as if it had their furniture already installed in the home. Having this record of your property's contents and their condition is especially beneficial if you ever have to submit an insurance claim -- for something stolen, or fire or flood damage. Another use will be in getting quotes from builders. Instead of contractors measuring and taking photos, going away and coming back with bids, a digital twin could instead let more contractors bid on the work -- giving power to the homeowner.

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