Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Tablet For Every Restaurant Tabletop? Your next waiter could be a Tablet

A Tablet For Every Restaurant Tabletop?
Your next waiter could be an iPad

By Allee Manning Oct 21, 2016 at 2:02 PM ET

Good news for anyone sick of waiting for the check to arrive when there are pants to go home and unbutton, and for restaurateurs trying to turn tables on a busy night: all you need is iPads.

A new report published in the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration’s Center For Hospitality Research has found that adding tabletop tech at “full-service casual dining chains” seems to benefit patrons and customers alike. By monitoring one chain restaurant’s service over the course of two Fridays and two Saturdays between 12:00-10:00 p.m., researchers discovered that table turnover rates improved and customer spending increased when a table top-placed tablet was used for ordering and/or settling the bill.

On average, guests that used tabletop devices to order spent $3.61 more on a meal, something researcher Alex Susskind said represented a win-win for the restaurant and its guests.

“Think about the last time you were in a full service restaurant and you wanted to order another drink and the server wasn’t around in time and you had to move through your meal without ordering it,” he said. “Those lost opportunities become fewer and fewer when customers use the technology [to place orders].” Also you don’t have to talk to extraneous humans — bonus.

Even better — while customers were spending more, they were making it through their meals quicker, using the device to order refills and request service rather than waiting for a server to walk by. If the guests ordered and paid with tabletop technology, their overall dining time was reduced by 31 percent. Less time, more customers, more money.

“It provides opportunity for the restaurant to save some time and money in labor dollars,” Susskind said of the turnover rate. “If servers can be freed up from doing some of the work that customers end up doing, that gives them an opportunity to better serve their customer in the big picture. They’re not pushing buttons in a side room, they’re just focusing on what the customers want and getting it to them more quickly.”

Is this better for wait staff? Probably not. Susskind noted that increased time efficiency could potentially allow restaurant management to cut their service staff if they wanted, rather than allowing their servers to spend the added time fulfilling other tasks. On the other hand, a past study conducted by the same researchers published in the journal Service Science shows that customers who used tabletop devices still tipped the same amount. Customers who enjoyed using a tabletop device and were more likely to return to the restaurant because of it were more likely to leave a higher tip.

That same prior study found that, on the whole, 70 to 80 percent of consumers surveyed saw benefits to having guest-facing tech as part of their dining experiences, though 20 percent “really didn’t like it,” largely due to complications using the technology.

It’s not surprising that millennials are typically most receptive to this type of service experience, given its reliance on technology and their baseline technical literacy.

“Baby boomers are mixed on it,” Susskind said, though he doesn’t think this will prevent a more widespread usage of the technology from taking off. “It’s something customers are wanting more and more of, and if you can give customers…more control of their service experience, that’s a positive thing. We have to recognize that millennials are the next generation that will have strong consumer influence. These types of things are built for the future.”

Netflix joins ranks of U.S. tech companies admitting they can’t conquer China

Netflix joins ranks of U.S. tech companies admitting they can’t conquer China
Published: Oct 20, 2016 4:17 p.m. ET

China is a tricky market to navigate given its uncertain legal and regulatory environment


Netflix Inc. is the latest U.S. technology company to admit defeat in its ambition to conquer the Chinese market, joining a growing list of companies to be stymied by a challenging regulatory, legal and competitive environment.

The streaming giant said this week that it has decided not to attempt a full-service offering in China, preferring to work with local partners.

“The regulatory environment for foreign digital content services in China has become challenging,” Netflix said in its third-quarter letter to shareholders. “We now plan to license content to existing online service providers in China rather than operate our own service in China in the near term.”

Netflix is not alone. China is the biggest foreign market for U.S. companies, which are eager to tap the potential of the world’s most populous country and its second-biggest economy. But the nation of 1.38 billion people is famously tricky to navigate, after a rapid period of transformation that has changed it from a source of cheap goods and semifinished products to a promising market with a burgeoning middle class that’s embracing consumer goods.

The country’s regulatory and legal framework has failed to keep pace with its economic boom, creating any number of road bumps for foreign players. In its 2016 membership survey, the U.S.-China Business Council found 67% of those polled citing the policy and regulatory environment as the biggest issue impacting their five-year outlooks, ahead of domestic market growth and the competitive environment.

“At the same time, market and policy headwinds have slowed investment overall,” the report found. “Fewer companies are accelerating investment in China—although the number reducing investment remains small.”

‘More and more we see that China is developing separately from the rest of the world. In internet, tech, media — there’s a separate ecosystem for what happens inside China and what happens outside China.’
Amy Wendholt, Apco Worldwide

The top 10 challenges cited by companies include the exhausting red tape involved in acquiring licenses, the uneven enforcement of rules, the difficulty of hiring and dealing with workers who are used to being told exactly what to do, restrictions on foreign investment, competition with local players, overcapacity and a lack of transparency.

“Three years after China announced significant reform goals, most American companies are not seeing significant changes in the business environment,” the report found.

Danielle Bailey, head of Asia-Pacific research and data partnerships at research company L2 Inc., said U.S. companies need to show the Chinese government they are bringing something it can capitalize on, such as new technology or expertise.

“The government will be a large barrier to anyone entering that market,” she said. “Unseating an established player is difficult, and if there’s nothing in it for the Chinese there’s no reason for them to open their doors.”

A step backward

Some high-profile companies have come a cropper in China of late, including Yum Brands Inc., which had long enjoyed significant success. The operator of the fast-food chains Pizza Hut and KFC is preparing to spin off its China business after some strategic missteps that decimated sales. In one instance, Yum introduced a premium steak product at Pizza Hut during the Chinese currency devaluation of 2015. It was also battered by a food-safety scandal when a prominent supplier was found to be selling meat that was out of date.

Then there’s Caterpillar Inc., the maker of diggers and dozers, which made a big bet on China that turned out to be badly mistimed, as the Wall Street Journal reported this week. Caterpillar invested billions of dollars in plants and equipment starting in 2010 to take advantage of a global commodities boom, which quickly became a rout as oil prices fell and Chinese growth slowed. The company is facing a fourth straight year of declining sales — 24 straight quarters — the longest such period in its history.

Wood-flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc. was all but crushed when laminates sourced from China were found to contain unacceptably high levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogenic, after local producers flouted U.S. rules on air quality.

Last month, ride-sharing service Uber Technologies Inc. decided to sell its Chinese operation to Didi Chuxing, marking the end of its costly and unprofitable effort to establish a foothold there. The move came after regulators passed rules that would prevent companies from offering competitive subsidies, which had been Uber’s main method of attracting drivers to its service in China.

“There were already two competitors, both of which have venture-capital backing,” said L2’s Bailey.

The deal has brought together a strange group of rivals. Didi had a partnership with Lyft Inc., a rival of Uber, as part of a global ride-hailing coalition. Lyft said it would be re-evaluating that partnership after Didi’s investment in Uber. It also draws in Apple Inc., which had invested $1 billion in Didi, as a kind of partner with both Uber and Lyft.

Censorship challenge

Apple’s troubles in China run the gamut, from patent disputes to a crackdown on its iBooks and iTunes movie service on the grounds that it doesn't have the correct licenses. Most big U.S. tech companies have fallen foul of China’s ever-changing rules and its censorship restrictions; Alphabet Inc. quit the country in 2010 after its search, Gmail, Google maps, YouTube and Google Play services were blocked and attacked by government-backed hackers.

‘You can’t have a mission to want to connect everyone in the world and leave out the biggest country.’
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

Facebook Inc. has been blocked in China since 2009, and its photo-sharing service Instagram was cut off in 2014. Founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has made clear his ambition to get into China, even hosting a Q&A with students in Mandarin in 2014. On the company’s third-quarter 2015 earnings call, Zuckerberg said: “You can’t have a mission to want to connect everyone in the world and leave out the biggest country.”

With U.S. companies locked out of internet services, local companies have rushed to fill the void, encouraged by a government that is eager to build domestic champions.

“More and more we see that China is developing separately from the rest of the world,” said Amy Wendholt, Hong Kong managing director for the public-relations firm Apco Worldwide. “In internet, tech, media — there’s a separate ecosystem for what happens inside China and what happens outside China.”

The government has been trying to create its own semiconductor industry, for example, since the 1990s, according to the consultant McKinsey & Co., initiatives that failed because they were more focused on academia and research.

China still represents an important market for U.S. chip makers. China’s biggest tech companies are consumers of chips in products like computers and notebooks made by giants like Lenovo Group Ltd. and networking gear and smartphones developed by Huawei Technologies.

“Most if not all of high-end and midrange Chinese phones, computers and servers contain U.S.-designed silicon,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in an email.

Moorhead cited an unusual joint venture that Intel Corp. INTC announced in January, to work with Tsinghua University and Montage Technology Global Holdings on the development of a special programmable chip that would be used right along with one of Intel’s Xeon processors in servers in data centers, which would act to “preserve the intellectual property of both parties.”

That kind of partnership may prove a sound approach to gaining entry to China, where domestic companies can provide the network of contacts and approvals needed to get things done. Above all, companies need to do the research to understand the Chinese consumer and adapt to local customers.

Finding a partner

One company that has succeeded in China is Nike Inc., which is riding a number of global trends to success, including China’s gradual embrace of sports and athleticism and the popularity of the NBA.

“It’s a stand-alone global brand with premium positioning that the Chinese recognize,” said Bailey. “It’s something that the Chinese can’t readily replicate.”

Netflix has clearly understood the need for a partner if it wants to overcome its main obstacle since it embarked on a global expansion earlier this year. There are now a number of streaming competitors in China, starting with Tmall Box Office, an Alibaba Group Holding Inc. business with a model that is very close to that of Netflix.

“In addition, there’s Youku Tudou (owned by Alibaba), PPTV, iQiyi,, Sohu Video, LeTV, Tencent TV,, Sina Video, CBox, and Funshion,” Deutsche Bank analysts wrote in a recent note. China, the analysts noted, requires SVOD, or streaming video-on-demand, services to source 70% of content in China. “We think Netflix would need a partner to enter China successfully,” they wrote.

Netflix shares were up another 1.1% Thursday, and have gained 8% in the year so far, while the S&P SPX, -0.14%  has gained about 5%.

Additional reporting by Tonya Garcia, Therese Poletti, Claudia Assis and Tomi Kilgore.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Possible Vendetta Behind the East Coast Web Slowdown

The Possible Vendetta Behind the East Coast Web Slowdown
By Nate Lanxon , Jeremy Kahn , and Joshua Brustein
October 21, 2016 — 9:08 AM EDT October 21, 2016 — 6:05 PM EDT

Millions lose access to Twitter, Spotify, Reddit, CNN

Dyn hammered by distributed denial-of-service attack

Millions of internet users lost access to some of the world’s most popular websites Friday, as hackers hammered servers along the U.S. East Coast with phony traffic until they crashed, then moved westward.

In what is believed to be an ongoing, global attack on one provider of Domain Name System services, Dyn Inc., the hack took down sites including Twitter, Spotify, Reddit, CNN, Etsy and The New York Times for long stretches of time -- from New York to Los Angeles.

Kyle York, chief strategy officer of Dyn, said the hackers launched a so-called distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack using “tens of millions” of malware-infected devices connected to the internet. Speaking during a conference call Friday, York said Dyn was “actively” dealing with a “third wave” of the attack.

Security professionals have been anticipating a rise in attacks coming from malware that targets the "Internet of Things," a new breed of small gadgets that are connected to the internet. That was after a hacker released software code that powers such malware, called Mirai, several weeks ago.

Gillian M. Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the agency and the FBI are aware of the incident and “investigating all potential causes.”

Internet Havoc

Dyn first reported site outages relating to the DDoS attack at around 7:10 a.m. New York time. The company restored service two hours later but was offline again at around noon, as another attack appeared to be underway, this time affecting the West Coast as well.

While DDoS attacks don’t steal anything, they create havoc across the internet -- and are on the rise in volume and power.

Earlier in the day, Brian Krebs, a well-known journalist covering computer security, wrote that the timing of the attacks corresponded with the release of research conducted by Dyn’s director of internet analysis. Dyn highlighted potential connections between firms that offer to protect against DDoS attacks, and the hackers who conduct them. Krebs’s own website faced an “extremely large and unusual” DDoS attack after he published a story based on the same research, he said.

“We can’t confirm or even speculate on anyone’s motivation or relation to that research,” said Dave Allen, Dyn’s general counsel.

Common Warfare

With attacks on the internet’s Domain Name System, hackers compromise the underlying technology that governs how the web functions, making the hack far more powerful and widespread.

The DNS translates website names into the Internet Protocol addresses that computers use to look up and access sites. But it has a design flaw: Sending a routine data request to a DNS server from one computer, the hacker can trick the system into sending a monster file of IP addresses back to the intended target. Multiply that by tens of thousands of computers under the hackers’ control, and the wall of data that flooded back is enormous. A small server may be capable of handling hundreds of simultaneous requests, but thousands every minute cause overload and ultimately shut down, taking the websites it hosts offline with it.

The practice often is employed by groups of hackers. In 2012, a DDoS attack forced offline the websites of Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., U.S. Bancorp and PNC Financial Services Group Inc.

A DDoS can be achieved in a number of ways, but commonly involves a distributed network of so-called “zombie” machines, referred to as botnets. A botnet is formed with computers and other connected devices in homes or offices infected with malicious code which, upon the request of a hacker, can flood a web server with data. One or two machines wouldn’t be an issue, but if tens or hundreds of thousands fire such data simultaneously, it can cripple even the most sophisticated web servers.

In the case of the Dyn incident, the computers targeted were DNS servers. Without a DNS server, large numbers of websites are inaccessible by users across a country or even the world. In other words, taking away the DNS servers is like taking away all the road signs on a country’s highway system.

Single Company Targeted

So-called “authoritative” DNS providers like Dyn are notoriously hard to secure. Carl Herberger, vice president for security solutions at Radware, an Israeli-based internet security company, likens “authoritative” DNS providers to hospitals, which must admit anyone who shows up at the emergency room. Dyn must consider traffic going to a website as initially legitimate. In the event of a DDoS, Dyn must work quickly to sort out the bad traffic from the good, which takes time and resources, and creates outages that ripple across the internet, as was the case Friday.

Dave Palmer, director of technology at U.K. cybersecurity company Darktrace, said the most recent DDoS attacks have been linked to Internet of Things devices, in particular web cams.

“The joke about the Internet of Things was that you were going to get people hijacking people’s connected fridges to conduct these attacks, but in these recent cases the culprit seems to be webcams,” Palmer said. “We will probably see, when this is investigated, that it is a botnet of the Internet of Things.”

To avoid massive outages, companies ramp up their capacity to try to absorb the deluge of traffic and reroute it, often with the help of a major telecommunications carrier or cloud-services provider like Akamai Technologies Inc. and CloudFlare Inc. But the only way to really prevent denial-of-service attacks may be to increase the overall security level of consumers around the world, Palmer said, a task that is getting harder as more and more devices are connected to the Internet.

“This is exactly what happens when tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of devices are left unprotected," Palmer said.

Sites across the internet suffer outage after cyberattack

Sites across the internet suffer outage after cyberattack

BY EMMA HINCHLIFFE 2016-10-21 13:04:16 UTC

Sites across the internet had problems on Friday morning following a cyberattack on a major internet management company.

Dyn announced on Friday morning that it has been the subject of a cyberattack that then caused major problems for numerous websites. People have reported issues with Twitter, Spotify, SoundCloud, Vox Media sites, Airbnb and numerous other sites.

The attack was resolved as of 9:20 a.m. EST, Dyn said.

Writing on its website, Dyn said that starting at about 7:00 a.m. EST, the company "began monitoring and mitigating a DDoS attack against our Dyn Managed DNS infrastructure. Some customers may experience increased DNS query latency and delayed zone propagation during this time. Updates will be posted as information becomes available."

DDoS stands for "distributed denial of service" and is a common tactic used by hackers to take down internet-connected servers. In a DDoS attack, malicious users build a network of computers that then send massive amounts of traffic to particular servers with the goal of denying the use of those servers to other users, according to Cisco.

The attack mainly affected the eastern United States, Dyn said.

The source of the attack was not immediately apparent.

The attack comes at a time of heightened tension over recent cyber attacks, with the US claiming it would hit back at Russia after accusing the country of hacking the Democratic National Committee.

Hacker News first noted Friday's "massive Dyn DNS outage." The site said that if sites reported as down were working for some users, those users' machines have likely cached the DNS response for those sites.

Internet service firm Level 3 communications found that the outage primarily affected the east coast of the U.S.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Facebook bans 'offensive' Swedish breast cancer awareness video

Facebook bans 'offensive' Swedish breast cancer awareness video

Cancer charity to appeal against deletion of animated images showing women how to check for lumps

Thursday 20 October 2016 11.37 EDT Last modified on Thursday 20 October 2016 17.00 EDT
Facebook has removed a video on breast cancer awareness posted in Sweden after deeming the images offensive, the Swedish Cancer Society said on Thursday.

The video, displaying animated figures of women with circle-shaped breasts, was aimed at explaining to women how to check for suspicious lumps.

Sweden’s Cancerfonden said it had tried in vain to contact Facebook, and had decided to appeal against the decision to remove the video.

Facebook was not immediately available for comment.

“We find it incomprehensible and strange how one can perceive medical information as offensive,” Cancerfonden communications director Lena Biornstad told Agence France-Presse. “This is information that saves lives, which is important for us,” she said. “This prevents us from doing so.”

Facebook faced outrage in September for repeatedly deleting a historic Vietnam war photo included in a post by Norway’s prime minister, Erna Solberg.

It said the iconic photo of a naked Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm bombing violated its rules but later backtracked on the decision.

Platforms like Facebook's Instant Articles and Google AMP are making it harder, not easier, to publish to the web

Platforms like Facebook's Instant Articles and Google AMP are making it harder, not easier, to publish to the web

Creating content for these formats reintroduces a coding requirement, and online code is vastly more complicated today than it was in the mid-1990s.

BY JAN DAWSON OCT 20, 2016, 2:46P

One of the wonderful things about the rise of the web, twentysomething years ago, was the way in which it democratized publishing — suddenly, anyone with an idea could set up a website and make it available to anyone. Early on, publishing online required at least a rudimentary understanding of code. To be an online writer meant you also had to be a coder. But, services quickly emerged that created WYSIWYG editors for online publications, so literally anyone who had used a word processor could create online content.

Recently, however, we’ve seen the rise of proprietary formats like Google’s AMP, Facebook’s Instant Articles and the Apple News Format, which threaten to de-democratize publishing on the web. To be clear, I’m not making a philosophical argument about the closed nature of these platforms but something much more practical: Creating content for these formats reintroduces a coding requirement, and online code is vastly more complicated today than it was in the mid-1990s.

A personal history

I first encountered the web when I entered university in 1994. It was a pretty primitive thing back then, with very limited ways to access it, and it was almost entirely text-based. But over the next four years, things moved forward rapidly, with additional web browsers improving the process of browsing the web ,and hosting and other online services making it easier for ordinary people like me to set up an online presence. By the time I graduated in 1997, not only was browsing the web a big part of my life but I had a website of my own. In order to build that website, I had to learn HTML, which, at the time, was a very simple thing to grasp, at least at a basic level. But that coding requirement still prevented many people from creating an online presence.

Interestingly, I basically took a two-year break from the web between early 1998 and early 2000 while I was serving as a missionary in Asia. When I returned, the web had again moved on significantly. Blogger had launched in 1999 and was one of the first sites that enabled people to create their own websites without knowing anything about coding, web hosting or any of the other more technical aspects that had previously characterized online publishing. Almost all of my online publishing since has been based on various blogging platforms and, for the last 10 years, almost exclusively on self-hosted WordPress sites.

Along the way, because I’ve always had something of an interest in coding, I’ve beefed up my understanding of HTML, grappled with CSS style sheets, and even done some messing around with PHP. But I’m always enormously grateful I don’t have to try to build sites that would perform well from the ground up — I’ve long since given up on that idea.

Enter AMP, Instant Articles and Apple News

So much for my personal history. Since last summer, we’ve seen what I’d argue is the latest phase in this online publishing evolution. It involves the creation of a variety of proprietary formats for online publishing. Google has been spearheading the Accelerated Mobile Pages project (AMP), which launched officially almost a year ago. Facebook introduced its Instant Articles format last summer, with a similar objective of accelerating the delivery of articles on mobile devices. And Apple introduced News as part of iOS 9, opening it up to publishers over the summer and to most users in the Fall, albeit with different intentions.

Here’s what’s these platforms have in common, however: Each uses proprietary formats to deliver articles to readers. Technically, these formats use standards-based elements — for example, AMP is a combination of custom HTML, custom JavaScript and caching. But the point here is the outputs from traditional online publishing platforms aren’t compatible with any of these three formats. And in order to publish to these formats directly, you need to know a lot more code than I ever did back in the mid-1990s before the first round of WYSIWYG tools for the web emerged.

We’re effectively turning back the clock to a pre-web world in which the only publishers that mattered were large publishers, and it was all but impossible to be read if you didn’t work for one of them.

As a solution, each of these platforms has provided tools intended to bridge the gap — all three, for example, have WordPress plugins to convert content to the appropriate formats. But a quick read of the reviews for the Facebook and AMP plugins tells you they don’t seem to be doing the job for many users. The Apple News plugin has a higher rating, but I know from my own experience that it’s problematic. Both Facebook and Apple also offer RSS tools to import existing content, but there are limitations around both (Apple News doesn’t allow advertising in RSS-driven publications, while Facebook IA requires a custom RSS feed with IA-specific markup, which is again going to be beyond the ken of most non-coding publishers). Apple news offers a WYSIWYG tool, but it’s extremely basic (it doesn’t support embeds, block quotes, or even bullet points).

Why does all this matter? After all, no one is forcing anyone to use any of these formats — publishing to the open web is still possible. While that’s technically true, at least two of these formats — AMP and Instant Articles — are being favored by the two largest gatekeepers to online content: Google and Facebook. Google now favors AMP results in search, while Facebook does the same within its News Feed, though less explicitly (by favoring faster-loading pages, it gives IA content a leg up). Apple News is different — it’s a self-contained app, and it’s basically irrelevant to you as a publisher unless your readers are using it. But if you do decide to use it, unless you publish in Apple News Format, you can’t monetize your content there, and Apple is pushing the News app heavily to its users.

Turning back the clock

The upshot of all of this is, unless you’ve comfortable with fairly advanced web coding, or can pay someone who is, your online publication is likely to become a second-class citizen on each of these new platforms, if it has a presence there at all. And, as these platforms — especially AMP and Instant Articles — suck up an ever greater proportion of online content, that’s going to leave smaller publishers out in the cold.

That in turn means we’re effectively turning back the clock to a pre-web world in which the only publishers that mattered were large publishers, and it was all but impossible to be read if you didn’t work for one of them. That seems like an enormous shame, and from a practical standpoint, matters a lot more to me as an online writer than more philosophical debates about open versus closed platforms.

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.

Jan Dawson is founder and chief analyst at Jackdaw, a technology research and consulting firm focused on the confluence of consumer devices, software, services and connectivity. During his 13 years as a technology analyst, Dawson has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Dawson worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as chief telecoms analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally. Reach him @jandawson.

NSA Can Access More Phone Data Than Ever

NSA Can Access More Phone Data Than Ever

By LEE FERRAN  Oct 20, 2016, 10:16 AM ET

One of the reforms designed to rein in the surveillance authorities of the National Security Agency has perhaps inadvertently solved a technical problem for the spy outfit and granted it potential access to much more data than before, a former top official told ABC News.

Before the signing of the USA Freedom Act in June 2015, one of the NSA's most controversial programs was the mass collection of telephonic metadata from millions of Americans — the information about calls, including the telephone numbers involved, the time and the duration but not the calls' content — under a broad interpretation of the Patriot Act's Section 215. From this large "haystack," as officials have called it, NSA analysts could get approval to run queries on specific numbers purportedly linked to international terrorism investigations.

The problem for the NSA was that the haystack was only about 30 percent as big as it should've been; the NSA database was missing a lot of data. As The Washington Post reported in 2014, the agency was not getting information from all wireless carriers and it also couldn't handle the deluge of data that was coming in.

On the technical side, Chris Inglis, who served as the NSA's deputy director until January 2014, recently told ABC News that when major telecommunications companies previously handed over customer records, the NSA "just didn't ingest all of it."

"[NSA officials] were trying to make sure they were doing it exactly right," he said, meaning making sure that the data was being pulled in according to existing privacy policies. The metadata also came in various forms from the different companies, so the NSA had to reformat much of it before loading it into a searchable database.

Both hurdles meant that the NSA couldn't keep up, and of all the metadata the agency wanted to be available for specific searches internally, only about a third of it actually was.

But then the USA Freedom Act was signed into law, and now Inglis said, all that is "somebody else's problem."

The USA Freedom Act ended the NSA's bulk collection of metadata but charged the telecommunications companies with keeping the data on hand. The NSA and other U.S. government agencies now must request information about specific phone numbers or other identifying elements from the telecommunications companies after going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court and arguing that there is a "reasonable, articulable suspicion" that the number is associated with international terrorism.

As a result, the NSA no longer has to worry about keeping up its own database and, according to Inglis, the percentage of available records has shot up from 30 percent to virtually 100. Rather than one internal, incomplete database, the NSA can now query any of several complete ones.

The new system "guarantees that the NSA can have access to all of it," Inglis said.

NSA general counsel Glenn Gerstell made a brief reference to the increased capacity in a post for the Lawfare blog in January after terrorist attacks at home and abroad.

"Largely overlooked in the debate that has ensued in the wake of recent attacks is the fact that under the new arrangement, our national security professionals will have access to a greater volume of call records subject to query in a way that is consistent with our regard for civil liberties," he wrote.

Mark Rumold, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told ABC News he doesn't have much of a problem with the NSA's wider access to telephone data, since now the agency has to go through a "legitimate" system with "procedural protections" before jumping into the databases.

"Their ability to obtain records has broadened, but by all accounts, they're collecting a far narrower pool of data than they were initially," he said, referring to returns on specific searches. "They can use a type of legal process with a broader spectrum of providers than earlier. To me, that isn't like a strike against it. That's almost something in favor of it, because we've gone through this public process, we've had this debate, and this is where we settled on the scope of the authority we were going to give them."

Rumold said he's still concerned about the NSA's ability to get information on phone numbers linked to a number in question — up to two "hops" away — but he said the USA Freedom Act "remains a step in the right direction."

The trade-off of the new system, according to Inglis, is in the efficiency of the searches. Whereas in the past the NSA could instantaneously run approved searches of its database, now the agency must approach each telecommunications company to ask about a number and then wait for a response.

In his January post Gerstell acknowledged concerns that the new approach could be "too cumbersome to be effective" and said the NSA will report to Congress on how the arrangement is working. A representative for the NSA declined to tell ABC News if any problems have been encountered so far, and Rumold noted there has been no public evidence of any issues.

Inglis said he isn't terribly concerned if the searches are a little slower. It's a small price to pay, he said, for what he called an "additional safeguard" that could increase the public's confidence in what the NSA is and how it operates.