Thursday, August 25, 2016

EU News publishers could charge search engines for story extracts under new rules

News publishers could charge search engines for story extracts

Copyright reforms by European Commission would require likes of Google to agree terms

about 8 hours ago

European news publishers will be given the right to levy fees on internet platforms such as Google if search engines show snippets of their stories, under radical copyright reforms being finalised by the European Commission.

The proposals, to be published in September, are aimed at diluting the power of big online operators, whose market share in areas such as search leads to unbalanced commercial negotiations between the search engine and content creators, according to officials.

The move will heap further pressure on the already strained relationship between Silicon Valley and Brussels, which are embroiled in increasingly fractious arguments over issues covering competition, tax and privacy. On Wednesday, the US Treasury department attacked commission moves to levy billions of euro from Apple for alleged underpayment of taxes in Europe.

At the heart of the draft copyright plan, news publishers would receive “exclusive rights” to make their content available to the public in a move that would force services such as Google News to agree terms with news organisations for showing extracts of articles.

Failure in past

Citing dwindling revenues at news organisations, the commission warns that failure to push on with such a policy would be “prejudicial for . . . media pluralism”, according to one internal document.

Critics of the idea argue that similar efforts to charge Google for aggregating news stories have failed in both Germany and Spain. Google responded to a mandatory levy in Spain by shutting down Google News in the country. In Germany, many publishers opted to waive the charge in order to still appear on the search engine’s news results after suffering big drops in traffic.

Julia Reda, a German MEP and copyright reform activist, said: “They recognise that German and Spanish rights did not work well, but structurally they are trying to do the same thing.”

But she said the size of Google would make it difficult for publishers to reach a deal even with the exclusive right. “It is insane to believe that companies would win this battle,” she said. Google declined to comment.

Under the proposals, news publishers would not be obliged to levy a fee for an aggregator to show a segment of content, and could offer it for free. Officials have made clear that simply linking to publicly available content is not covered by the EU’s copyright rules, a fact that will not change under the proposals.

Christian Wigand, a spokesperson for the European Commission, said: “Let’s be clear: granting such rights to news publishers would not affect the way users share hyperlinks on the internet. It would recognise their role as investors in content.”

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016

Apple boosts iPhone Security After Mideast Spyware Discovery


PARIS (AP) -- A botched attempt to break into the iPhone of an Arab activist using hitherto unknown espionage software has trigged a global upgrade of Apple's mobile operating system, researchers said Thursday.

The spyware took advantage of three previously undisclosed weaknesses in Apple's iPhone to take complete control of the devices, according to reports published Thursday by the San Francisco-based Lookout smartphone security company and internet watchdog group Citizen Lab. Both reports fingered the NSO Group, an Israeli company with a reputation for flying under the radar, as the author of the spyware.

"The threat actor has never been caught before," said Mike Murrary, a researcher with Lookout, describing the program as "the most sophisticated spyware package we have seen in the market."

The reports issued by Lookout and Citizen Lab outlined how an iPhone could be completely compromised with the tap of a finger, a trick so coveted in the world of cyberespionage that in November a spyware broker said it had paid a $1 million dollar bounty to programmers who'd found a way to do it. The weaknesses could allow hackers to take control of targeted iPhones to spy on calls and messages.

Apple said in a statement that it fixed the vulnerability immediately after learning about it.

In a statement which stopped short of acknowledging that the spyware was its own, the NSO Group said its mission was to provide "authorized governments with technology that helps them combat terror and crime."

The company said it had no knowledge of any particular incidents.

© 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Baltimore Police Respond To Report Of Secret Aerial Surveillance Program

Baltimore Police Respond To Report Of Secret Aerial Surveillance Program
August 24, 2016 11:04 PM

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Since January, the city of Baltimore has been under intermittent surveillance from the sky, and the public was never told, according to a report out this week in Bloomberg Businessweek.

A small Cessna airplane equipped with cameras spent hours flying over the city, and feeding its footage back to huge hard drives, the report says.

The Baltimore Police Department held a press conference on the matter Wednesday afternoon, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake put out a statement around the same time.

“I was recently made aware of the Persistent Surveillance Systems Inc. work with our city,” Rawlings-Blake wrote.

“The pilot program, funded by an anonymous donor, is cutting edge technology aimed at making Baltimore safer. My top priority, which I have continuously communicated to Commissioner Davis, has been to keep our city safe. His team sought opportunities to find new technology that works hand in hand with our robust Citiwatch program. This technology is about public safety. This isn’t surveilling or tracking anyone. It’s about catching those who choose to do harm to citizens in our city.”

The program is “not an unmanned drone or a secret surveillance program,” Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith began the Wednesday press conference by saying.

“This is a 21st century investigative tool used to assist investigators in solving crimes. The wide area imagery system allows for the capability of seeing 32 square miles. This, effectively, is a mobile CitiWatch camera. What we gain with this is size, so we see a larger area than we would see with a CitiWatch camera, but what we lose is the clarity that we get from a CitiWatch camera, which is on the ground.”

He credited the program with helping solve a crime involving a pair of elderly siblings being shot in Walbrook Junction in February.

The CitiWatch program is a voluntary registry that contains the location and owner information of privately owned surveillance systems—information that is valuable to the Baltimore Police Department in the event of a crime. There are 700 such cameras throughout the city.

“Years ago, when we embarked on our CitiWatch program, there were similar anxieties and that’s understandable,” Smith said. “We expect this technology to be used for other public safety concerns, like Silver Alerts, Amber Alerts, floods, sinkholes, fires, terrorist attacks, and more. It adheres to our CCTV policies. We currently know that there are existing technologies that are out there in the world and in place, like red light cameras, speed cameras, license plate readers, other CCTV and facial recognition. All of those programs received the same level of scrutiny. This is a 21st century technology that other large cities across the country are also testing.”

Smith ended his initial remarks by saying  “the only people that should be concerned in the city of Baltimore are criminals.”

When asked why the program was never disclosed to the public, Smith pointed out that it is not the department’s policy to put out press announcements for new or changed CitiWatch cameras, and that it’s not an official city program, but rather a trial program.

He also said the program “wasn’t continuous from January 1st through today”, but rather consisted of 100 hours of filming in the January and February, and 200 hours over the summer months.

There are a few more weeks left in the current phase of the program, but “we don’t have a plan at this point to move forward beyond that,” Smith said.

In a statement on Wednesday night, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said, “We do not know yet if our examination of this technology will result in a recommendation to permanently pursue it, but promise a robust and inclusive community conversation in the event that we conclude it can improve public safety in Baltimore.”

Ross McNutt, the president and CEO of Persistent Surveillance, was also on hand at the press conference.

“We believe that we contribute significantly to the safety and the support of the citizens here in Baltimore and we greatly appreciate the opportunity,” he said.

“We do have the legal analysis that covers the program that we are no different than any other airborne law enforcement organization camera system. There are four Supreme Court level decisions that cover this, that deal with one out of Florida and one out of California, specifically, that were used to gather search warrants. One was in 1984 and one was in 1986.”

Those documents have been reviewed with the State’s Attorney’s office, McNutt said.

Commissioner Davis says the program was made available to Baltimore through a private donation in an effort to seek ways to enhance public safety.

WJZ has learned that Texas billionaire John Arnold and his wife Laura donated the money to a non-profit Baltimore Community Foundation, saying in a statement, ““We invest in a wide array of criminal justice issues and policies, including strategies for improving the clearance rate of criminal cases. One such strategy is to use technology to assist police in early-stage investigations. To that end, we personally provided financial support for the aerial surveillance tool being piloted in Baltimore.  As a society, we should seek to understand whether these technologies yield significant benefits, while carefully weighing any such benefits against corresponding tradeoffs to privacy.”

Many residents, including Councilman Brandon Scott are wondering why the public wasn’t notified.

“Why in the world didn’t we tell people about this,” said Scott. In light of everything happening in the city, transparency is key with us moving forward.”

Police agencies in Pennsylvania, California and Ohio have also tested the technology.

Android 7.0, Nougat: The complete FAQ

By JR Raphael
Android 7.0, Nougat: The complete FAQ

Google's Android 7.0 Nougat release is full of fresh new features and flavors. This detailed (and delightfully chewy!)
Computerworld | Aug 23, 2016 9:26 AM PT

I never knew it was possible for so many people to be excited about Nougat.

Heck, I don't think I'd even heard the word "nougat" more than 20 times -- ever, in my entire life -- up until Google decided to use the sweet treat as the name for its latest Android release.

But alas, here we are: Android 7.0 is officially on its way into the world, and that means the honey, egg, and nut-based gloop (yup, that's nougat for ya) is atop many a tech-lover's mind.

So what's Nougat -- the Android software, that is -- all about? And what'll it mean for you? Here are answers to all of your burning questions.

(Warning: Consumption of this story may cause you to eat several to several dozen candy bars. The author accepts no responsibility for weight gained or cavities formed as a result of any such mid-reading munching. He does, however, require that you send him one candy bar for every three that you consume.)
(Totally not kidding.)

(Don't let me down.)

What are the biggest new features in Android 7.0?

Not wasting any time getting to the good stuff, eh? I like the way you work.

I'd say Nougat has three "headline features" that you're bound to notice -- or at least want to notice -- first:

1. Split-screen mode. Also called multi-window mode, depending on where you look. It's basically the same thing we've seen on devices from Samsung and other manufacturers for a while, only now it's a native part of Android itself -- which means it'll work consistently across all Android devices and with almost any app.

The way split-screen mode works in Nougat is pretty simple, though the function is a bit hidden: While using an app, you press and hold the Overview key (the typically-square-shaped button next to Back and Home). That splits the screen in two, with your current app on top (or left) and a list of your most recently opened apps on bottom (or right).

Alternatively, you can tap the Overview key and then press and hold an app's card from there. That allows you to drag that card to the top of the screen to initiate split-screen mode. Either way you go about it, you'll be able to move a slider to adjust the size of the two windows -- and when you're ready to go back to a regular single-app view, you'll press and hold the Overview key again to exit.
2. New and improved notifications (yes, again!).Android's notifications are an ever-evolving beast, and with the 7.0 Nougat release, they get another fresh coat of paint.
Updated appearances aside, notifications in Nougat are bundled by app -- so if you have, say, three new email alerts from Gmail, they'll all appear within a single card in your notification panel.

You can then tap that card to fan it out into individual mini-cards with more detailed info on each message, and you can then tap on any of those mini-cards to expand it and gain access to action-performing buttons (like commands for archiving or replying).

Speaking of actions, Nougat's notifications let you reply to different kinds of messages right within their notifications -- without having to interrupt what you're doing or change processes in any way. It's one of those things that seems so sensible, you'll wonder how you ever got by without it.

3. A revamped Quick Settings. Android's Quick Settings gets far more useful with Nougat, thanks to a new set of always-present toggles on top of the regular notification panel (illustrated above) and a newly customizable set of tiles when you swipe down from that view.

Changing the order of your Quick Settings tiles also changes what toggles appear in the permanent notification bar (shall we call those the "Quick Quick Settings"?). It's something third-party versions of Android have had for ages now, but having it in the base OS itself is useful nevertheless -- and a much more effective use of the notification panel's space.
Blah, blah blah, blah blah blah blah. Isn't there any other interesting stuff -- stuff that'll actually affect the way I use my device day to day?
My, you're demanding! But not to fear: I've got ya covered.

In fact, two of my favorite Nougat features (in terms of what makes the most meaningful difference in my own day-to-day life) are things that fall right smack into that category.
The first is the newly present ability to switch quickly between apps. Think of it like Alt-Tab for Android: With Nougat, you can just double-tap the Overview key to snap back and forth between your two most recently used apps or processes. It happens in a split second and makes a world of difference in how easy it is to multitask and get around your device.
The second is a seemingly subtle thing that makes my life significantly easier: the ability to pin your most used apps to the top of Android's Share menu. That means the apps you want to see first will always appear at the top of the list when you share something from anywhere in the system.

You can pin multiple apps, too, and they'll appear at the top of the list in alphabetical order. It seems like a little thing, but it affects me more times throughout the day than probably anything else new in Nougat.
Wait a sec, Sherlock: Isn't there something else that's different in the Overview interface?

Man -- I can't get anything past you! You're good. No wonder we get along so well.

Indeed, Android 7.0's Overview menu has a couple of new touches. First, the Overview screen now limits the number of recently used apps and processes shown so you don't get an overwhelming array of cards to try to wrap your head around (one of my pet peeves since Android's Lollipop era).

And second, Nougat introduces a native "Clear All" command for those times when you just can't stand the clutter and want everything out of sight. Simply scroll all the way to the top of the Overview list, tap the "Clear All" text, and let your OCD-ladled brain rest easy.
What about appearance? Will Nougat look any different from what I have now?

It really depends on what version of Android you're coming from, but generally speaking, Nougat sticks with the overall aesthetic introduced in Lollipop and refined in Marshmallow and just fine-tunes it even more. You might not even immediately be aware of any obvious differences.

That being said, the notification and Quick Settings elements we talked about a minute ago are probably the biggest visual changes. The main system settings menu also has a slightly updated look, with a new "Suggestions" section at the top and a newly added navigation menu that makes it (slightly) easier to jump between sections.

Let's see...what else? Android 7.0 includes new emojis, so there's that. It has a new option to increase the size of everything on your screen, for those of us prone to squinting (previous versions of Android only allowed you to increase the size of text -- not all on-screen elements). And there's now a native way to set different wallpapers for your home and lock screen, if you're so inclined (though it isn't particularly easy to control the two areas independently).

You mean to tell me we're going from 6.0 to 7.0, and that's it? Surely there's something else new here, even if it isn't earth-shattering?

Well, yeah -- I mean, there's a smattering of random new and improved this-and-thats, if you're really gonna push the subject.

Drumroll, please:

Data Saver. With Nougat, you can activate a Data Saver mode so that any app running in the background won't be able to send or receive data over your cellular connection.

New languages and multi-locale support. Nougat knows a hundred new languages and a handful of new locales, so if U.S. English isn't your cup of tea, you can still get your message across. You can select multiple locales as your system default, too, in case you go back and forth between different dialects and want your device to act accordingly.

Better backup and restore. Android's backup and restore system has gotten pretty darn good over recent years, but Nougat delivers a bit more punch to the parade. Specifically, Android 7.0 adds extra areas of device settings into the list of stuff that gets synced with your Google account and restored whenever you set up a new phone -- things like app permissions, accessibility settings, and Wi-Fi hotspot preferences.

Seamless software updates (for certain new devices). It won't affect existing phones, but "select" new devices running Nougat will be able to get future software updates in the background -- without any waiting or user-facing hassles. It's taking a page from the Chrome OS book (imagine that!), though remember that in this case, a manufacturer and/or carrier will still have to approve and deploy any updates before they come through.

How about security? Anything new on that front?

Rest secured, my security-lovin' amigo: You shan't be disappointed.

Android 7.0 improves encryption by moving it to the file level (the full explanation gets pretty technical, but the important thing is that it's a more secure way of doing things).

It also lets you allow apps to access only specific folders on your device instead of having to grant access to all of your local storage, and it introduces a new and improved Trusted Face system that makes your face appear more trustworthy to friends, loved ones, and passersby.

Wait a minute...I think I got that last part wrong. The new Trusted Face system is actually just an improvement to the feature that lets you unlock your device with your smiling mug. The updated version is supposed to work better in poor lighting conditions and even with changes to your appearance (addition or removal of glasses, facial hair, clown noses, etc).

And performance? Will Nougat devices run faster? Last longer? Make me feel loved and attractive for who I am, even if I might have gained a few pounds over the past several months?

I mean, look: Every operating system upgrade always promises to provide better performance, stronger stamina, and more cuddle time when you're finished. Nougat is no exception: The latest version of Android has lots of impressive-sounding technical mumbo-jumbo that basically amounts to all those things you mentioned (aside from the loved and attractive part -- sorry, pal, but you're on your own there).

In reality, I doubt most people will notice much of a difference. In my time using Nougat (in its pre-release beta version over the past couple months, in its pre-beta preview form before that, and in its final release these past 24 hours or so), nothing meaningfully different has jumped out at me. But maybe your mileage will vary.

Android 7.0 is supposed to include some crazy new VR bidness, idn't it?

First of all, kudos on the hip lingo there. Replacing an "s" with a "d" is way overdue to become the Next Big Thing™ all the cool kids do.

You're absolutely right, though: Nougat does have some virtual reality, erm, bidness attached to it. It's part of a new VR platform Google's creating called Daydream, but the reality (see what I did there?) is that it's not going to be relevant for most people -- and it's not going to affect anyone at all, period, for a while yet.

Why? Here's why: First, not many current phones (to put it mildly) have the hardware required to support Daydream. And second, Daydream itself isn't actually ready yet.

So what Android 7.0 actually has is the framework for a future virtual reality platform -- a platform that'll likely come along later this year and be limited to a small number of phones for the moment. Nothing to get too excited about...yet.

Aren't there any new Nexus phones to go along with this release?

Weird that we haven't heard anything official on that front yet, isn't it? Thus far, Google is staying mum about plans for new Nexus devices, but don't panic: It's highly likely we'll see a couple new phones straight from Googleland later this year.

As for why the timing is different than usual this time, all we can do is speculate. The crew at Android Central, however, did a fine job of using facts and logic to make sense of the situation. If you're interested in the nitty-gritty of what might be going on behind the scenes, their proposal is well worth reading.

The short answer, though, is that we'll almost certainly have some new Nexus devices later this fall -- probably along with a handful of new features in tow. So hang tight.

Please, please, please: Before we start wrapping this thing up, tell me about some boring work-related crap Android 7.0 enables.

Zzzz......oh, sorry. Fell asleep before I could start answering.

Ah, but I jest. Enterprise uses of Android may not be the sexiest subject in the world, but for businesses relying on the operating system, they absolutely are important. So if you really, truly insist, let's power through that area real quick.

Nougat has a handful of work-related improvements. To keep this entertaining for everyone, I recommend trying to read through the following items in a single breath.

Ready? Here we go (group inhale....):

An always-on VPN feature
The ability to apply security features to work apps without affecting the entire device
The ability to search for work contacts in the dialer and messaging apps
Access to corporate directory contacts for incoming calls
A new work mode setting that lets you disable work-related interruptions during personal time
Better app and policy controls for admins
QR code provisioning for new devices
Digital TPS report cover sheets with a patented eLumbergh feature (if you have to ask what that means, hold your breath for an extra 12 seconds as punishment)

Whew! Did you make it? Nice work, team. (And yes, I made that last one up. But you have to admit, it'd be a greaaat addition. Yeaaaaaah.)

Okay, wise guy. So will my phone or tablet get Nougat, then? And if so, when?

The million-dollar question, eh? As usual, it's up to each manufacturer to provide the upgrade to its phones and tablets -- and as usual, some manufacturers are better than others when it comes to communicating with customers about their upgrade plans.

Heck, let's not stop there: Some manufacturers are also better than others at making upgrades a priority and getting them out to users in a reasonably timely fashion. Check out my most recent Android upgrade report card to see how the big players have been stacking up lately.

Aside from Google's own Nexus devices -- which are really the only Android phones you should consider if timely and reliable ongoing updates are truly important to you -- we don't have much in the way of firm timelines yet.

As for those Nexus devices, Google started the rollout process on Monday and will be continuing it in phases (as usual) over the next several weeks. The Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus 6, Nexus 9, Nexus Player, Pixel C, and Android One General Mobile 4G are all on the list to be updated over the coming month.

Will all the features and changes you mentioned actually come to my device?

Not necessarily. First of all, some of the features are hardware-dependent -- like all that VR bidness (did I use that right?) we were rapping about (seriously, do I sound cool now?!) a while ago. So those are things that'll be more relevant for new devices coming out down the road than existing devices getting Nougat today.

Beyond that -- as we've discussed countless times before -- Android's open nature means manufacturers can modify the software in different ways and put their own individual stamps on it. If you want the software as Google designed it, a Google Nexus device is the way to go. Other manufacturers do their own things -- which can be both good and bad, depending on the specific nature of the thing and what type of experience you prefer. But they don't always include everything Google's core software offers, particularly when it comes to interface- and design-related elements.

For better and for worse, that's part of what you get when you purchase non-Nexus Android products -- and it's something you have to think about when you decide which type of device is right for you.

How do you pronounce Nougat, anyway? Is it "noo-GIT" or "noo-GUT"?

Neither; it's "n'YOO-gaaaaaaaaaaat," followed by a guttural cough.

Is the nougat in 3 Musketeers real nougat?

No. It's a rare breed of onion mixed with a hint of peppered gecko egg.

Is there any connection between craving nougat and giving noogies?

Yes. Now for the love of Goog, go get me a damn candy bar.

World's first self-driving taxis debut in Singapore

World's first self-driving taxis debut in Singapore

SINGAPORE (AP) — The world's first self-driving taxis will be picking up passengers in Singapore starting Thursday.

Select members of the public will be able to hail a free ride through their smartphones in taxis operated by nuTonomy, an autonomous vehicle software startup. While multiple companies, including Google and Volvo, have been testing self-driving cars on public roads for several years, nuTonomy says it will be the first to offer rides to the public. It will beat ride-hailing service Uber, which plans to offer rides in autonomous cars in Pittsburgh, by a few weeks.

The service will start small — six cars now, growing to a dozen by the end of the year. The ultimate goal, say nuTonomy officials, is to have a fully self-driving taxi fleet in Singapore by 2018, which will help sharply cut the number of cars on Singapore's congested roads. Eventually, the model could be adopted in cities around the world, nuTonomy says.

For now, the taxis only will run in a 2.5-square-mile business and residential district called "one-north," and pick-ups and drop-offs will be limited to specified locations. And riders must have an invitation from nuTonomy to use the service. The company says dozens have signed up for the launch, and it plans to expand that list to thousands of people within a few months.

The cars — modified Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electrics — have a driver in front who is prepared to take back the wheel and a researcher in back who watches the car's computers. Each car is fitted with six sets of Lidar — a detection system that uses lasers to operate like radar — including one that constantly spins on the roof. There are also two cameras on the dashboard to scan for obstacles and detect changes in traffic lights.

The testing time-frame is open-ended, said nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma. Eventually, riders may start paying for the service, and more pick-up and drop-off points will be added. NuTonomy also is working on testing similar taxi services in other Asian cities as well as in the U.S. and Europe, but he wouldn't say when.

"I don't expect there to be a time where we say, 'We've learned enough,'" Iagnemma said.

Doug Parker, nuTonomy's chief operating officer, said autonomous taxis could ultimately reduce the number of cars on Singapore's roads from 900,000 to 300,000.

"When you are able to take that many cars off the road, it creates a lot of possibilities. You can create smaller roads, you can create much smaller car parks," Parker said. "I think it will change how people interact with the city going forward."

NuTonomy, a 50-person company with offices in Massachusetts and Singapore, was formed in 2013 by Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who were studying robotics and developing autonomous vehicles for the Defense Department. Earlier this year, the company was the first to win approval from Singapore's government to test self-driving cars in one-north. NuTonomy announced a research partnership with Singapore's Land Transport Authority earlier this month.

Singapore is ideal because it has good weather, great infrastructure and drivers who tend to obey traffic rules, Iagnemma says. As a land-locked island, Singapore is looking for non-traditional ways to grow its economy, so it's been supportive of autonomous vehicle research.

Auto supplier Delphi Corp., which is also working on autonomous vehicle software, was recently selected to test autonomous vehicles on the island and plans to start next year.

"We face constraints in land and manpower. We want to take advantage of self-driving technology to overcome such constraints, and in particular to introduce new mobility concepts which could bring about transformational improvements to public transport in Singapore," said Pang Kin Keong, Singapore's Permanent Secretary for Transport and the chairman of its committee on autonomous driving.

Olivia Seow, 25, who does work in startup partnerships in one-north and is one of the riders nuTonomy selected, took a test ride of just less than a mile on Monday. She acknowledged she was nervous when she got into the car, and then surprised as she watched the steering wheel turn by itself.

"It felt like there was a ghost or something," she said.

But she quickly grew more comfortable. The ride was smooth and controlled, she said, and she was relieved to see that the car recognized even small obstacles like birds and motorcycles parked in the distance.

"I couldn't see them with my human eye, but the car could, so I knew that I could trust the car," she said. She said she is excited because the technology could free up her time during commutes or help her father by driving him around as he grows older.

An Associated Press reporter taking a ride Wednesday observed that the safety driver had to step on the brakes once, when a car was obstructing the test car's lane and another vehicle, which appeared to be parked, suddenly began moving in the oncoming lane.

Iagnemma said the company is confident that its software can make good decisions. The company hopes its leadership in autonomous driving will eventually lead to partnerships with automakers, tech companies, logistics companies and others.

"What we're finding is the number of interested parties is really overwhelming," he said.


Durbin reported from Detroit.

Uber Loses at Least $1.2 Billion in First Half of 2016

Uber Loses at Least $1.2 Billion in First Half of 2016

After touting profitability in the U.S. early this year, the ride-hailing company is said to post second-quarter losses exceeding $100 million.
By Eric Newcomer

August 25, 2016 — 5:00 AM PDT

The ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies Inc. is not a public company, but every three months, dozens of shareholders get on a conference call to hear the latest details on its business performance from its head of finance, Gautam Gupta.

On Friday, Gupta told investors that Uber's losses mounted in the second quarter. Even in the U.S., where Uber had turned a profit during its first quarter, the company was once again losing money.

In the first quarter of this year, Uber lost about $520 million before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, according to people familiar with the matter. In the second quarter the losses significantly exceeded $750 million, including a roughly $100 million shortfall in the U.S., those people said. That means Uber's losses in the first half of 2016 totaled at least $1.27 billion.

Subsidies for Uber's drivers are responsible for the majority of the company's losses globally, Gupta told investors, according to people familiar with the matter. An Uber spokesman declined to comment.

"You won't find too many technology companies that could lose this much money, this quickly," said Aswath Damodaran, a business professor at New York University who has written skeptically of Uber's astronomical valuation on his blog. "For a private business to raise as much capital as Uber has been able to is unprecedented."

Bookings grew tremendously from the first quarter of this year to the second, from above $3.8 billion to more than $5 billion. Net revenue, under generally accepted accounting principles, grew about 18 percent, from about $960 million in the first quarter to about $1.1 billion in the second.

Uber also told investors during the call that it was changing how it calculates UberPool's contribution to revenue in the second quarter, which had the effect of artificially increasing revenue.

Uber's losses and revenue have generally grown in lockstep as the company's global ambitions have expanded. Uber has lost money quarter after quarter. In 2015, Uber lost at least $2 billion before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. Uber, which is seven years old, has lost at least $4 billion in the history of the company.

It's hard to find much of a precedent for Uber's losses. Webvan and—two now-defunct phantoms of the original dot-com boom—lost just over $1 billion combined in their short lifetimes. Inc. is famous for losing money while increasing its market value, but its biggest loss ever totaled $1.4 billion in 2000. Uber exceeded that number in 2015 and is on pace to do it again this year.

"It's hardly rare for companies to lose large sums of money as they try to build significant markets and battle for market share," said Joe Grundfest, professor of law and business at Stanford. "The interesting challenge is for them to turn the corner to become profitable, cash-flow-positive entities."

The second quarter of 2016, which ended in June, could represent a nadir for Uber. The company's losses will likely fall. In July, it cut a deal with its largest global competitor, Chinese ride-hailing behemoth Didi Chuxing, washing its hands of its massive losses in that country. Didi gave Uber a 17.5 percent stake in its business and a $1 billion investment in exchange for Uber's retreat. Uber lost at least $2 billion in two years in China, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg in July. Uber won't see any losses from China on its balance sheet after August, the company said on Friday's investor call.

Uber’s backers range from venture capital firms like Benchmark Capital to the investment bank Goldman Sachs. Altogether, Uber has raised more than $16 billion in cash and debt. Its latest valuation is a whopping $69 billion. The company has effectively redistributed at least $1 billion to the Chinese working class in the form of heavy subsidies to drivers there. "Uber and Didi Chuxing are investing billions of dollars in China and both companies have yet to turn a profit there," Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick wrote in a letter announcing the company's departure from China.

Uber has been engaged in a fierce price war with Lyft Inc. this year, and that has also contributed to the enormous losses. Uber told investors on Friday's call that it's willing to spend to maintain its market share in the U.S. The company told investors that it believes Uber has between 84 percent and 87 percent of the market in the U.S., according to a person familiar with the matter. One investor said that he was expecting Uber to continue losing money in the U.S. for the next quarter or two.

Lyft, a much smaller company by trip volume, looks to be losing more money than Uber in the U.S. Lyft has told investors that it will keep its losses under $50 million a month, Bloomberg reported in April. That would be about $150 million in a quarter. Uber's U.S. losses totaled about $100 million in the second quarter of this year. In July, Uber delivered 62 million rides to Lyft's 13.9 million. Uber's subsidies were spread over more rides.

Uber has about $8 billion in the bank and will soon receive $1 billion in cash from Didi, according to a person familiar with the matter. Uber also has access to a $2 billion credit line and a $1.2 billion loan.

"I think what Uber is trying to do is, 'Hey, look, we're going to take the losses up front in order to get to disproportionate scale,'" said Robert Siegel, lecturer in management at Stanford's business school. "The question is when they can get to profitability."

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Self-driving cars reach a fork in the road, and automakers take different routes

Self-driving cars reach a fork in the road, and automakers take different routes

By Ashley Halsey III and Michael Laris August 24 at 5:43 PM

Cars capable of driving themselves may be on the showroom floor sooner than you think, but whether they should come with all the current essentials — including a steering wheel and pedals on the floor — has the auto industry at a fork in the road.

Ford sided with the pioneering engineers at Google last week in announcing plans to introduce limited-use vehicles without traditional controls within five years. Some other major automakers — and virtually all of them are well along in their work on self-driving vehicles — say they will introduce automated elements one step at a time, until drivers accept that they no longer need to control their cars.

The different approaches are rooted in conflicting views of safety and what the public is willing to accept.

“It’s almost like asking people before they even really knew what an iPhone was, how the iPhone might change their lives,” said Johanna Zmud, senior research scientist at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

Tesla, which has been aggressive in rolling out limited automated steering and similar features, made headlines worldwide this year when one of its cars was involved in a fatal crash with a tractor-trailer. Although the vehicle’s “autopilot” system was far from fully autonomous, and the crash is still being investigated, the death of its driver seemed to underscore worries about the transition to self-driving cars.

Tesla said “neither autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”

“This to me is the crux of the problem,” said Raj Rajkumar, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who has been on the leading edge of autonomous-vehicle technology. “On one side, you have humans who become too comfortable and stop paying attention. The other side of the equation is that the technology for vehicles to drive themselves is just not mature enough.”

Google decided on the no-wheel, no-pedals approach after allowing its employees to drive the company’s test cars. Despite plenty of warnings, the experiment did not go well.

“There was a brief period when people would be a little nervous and monitor the car very carefully,” said Google engineer Nathaniel Fairfield, “and then they would start to relax and they would sort of trust the system, and really over-trust the system, and start to get distracted.”

After watching one driver rummage around in his back seat in search of a phone-charging cord, Google engineers decided it was too risky to create a system in which drivers would be expected to take control of the car at a critical moment.

“If you’ve got an autonomous system that’s working almost all the time, the only time when it doesn’t work is when something is really ambiguous or confusing,” Fairfield said. “The worst thing in the world, almost, is for someone to hear a klaxon go off, freak out, grab the steering wheel and do something wrong.”

The dangers caused by drivers who become distracted or fall asleep are well established. In 2014, 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 injured in distracted-driving crashes. That same year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 7 percent of all crashes and almost 17 percent of fatal crashes involved drowsy driving.

When it comes to self-driving cars, a Stanford University study indicated that distraction “may make transitions to driver control more difficult” and that “drivers may sleep for significant periods on long journeys, increasing the difficulty of rousing them and having immediate engagement.”

Rajkumar, who brought Carnegie Mellon’s autonomous SUV to Capitol Hill two years ago for members of Congress to test-ride, said he is more convinced than ever that introducing safe-driving features — lane-departure warnings, cameras and sensors — gradually is the prudent path.

“We are able to drive only because we have common sense when it comes to things we’ve never seen before,” he said. “But computer software does not have that level of cognitive abilities to deal with things it has never seen before.”

While Google is trying to go straight to a fully autonomous vehicle, many companies that actually sell cars today are embracing a more gradual transition.

Audi says it will sell “piloted driving” systems in some models starting in 2018. And they will be more restrictive than Tesla’s autopilot of today.

The 2018 Audi A8 will be able to operate hands-free, but only on controlled-access highways and only until the car reaches 35 mph. This would allow a driver to safely fumble around on an iPhone while behind the wheel in a Capital Beltway traffic jam, company officials said. But it would not allow the car to drive itself on the Florida highway with cross streets where the Tesla was going 74 mph when it crashed.

“Our approach has always been step by step,” said Brad Stertz, Audi’s director of government affairs. With the cars headed to market soon, “we don’t think it’s wise to throw drivers into an environment they don’t completely understand or trust. That just invites misuse.”

Initially, Audi envisions steering wheels as remaining critical components in the cars it sells.

“I think the difference between what Google’s talking about and what we’re talking about is, we believe the driver is still responsible, just like an airline pilot is still responsible for an airliner on autopilot,” Stertz said. “They’re still situationally aware. They’re still able and responsive and capable of taking over if needed.”

To avoid the tuning-out phenomenon that so concerned Google engineers and many others, the Audi will have “a driver-availability system,” Stertz said, “that simply monitors, are their eyes open? Are they occasionally looking up and out the front of the car, out the front windshield? In other words, are they available to potentially take over?”

The “highway traffic jam pilot,” slated to be released in 2018, will be followed, in 2020 or 2021, by a full-speed highway pilot system, which will also work only on controlled-access highways and when other conditions are met, such as drivers’ wearing seat belts.

Audi is simultaneously developing fully automated technology “that may not require driver controls” and could be used for a variety of on-demand services, Stertz said, though the company has not put a date on when such a car might be released.

It also remains unclear what will become of federal regulations that currently require driver controls in vehicles.

“Ultimately, we’re all converging in the next decade into a very similar location,” Stertz said of carmakers and tech companies such as Google.

General Motors is trying to frame the challenges differently. It says a driver will be provided with its driverless car. The company invested $500 million in Uber’s smaller ride-hailing cousin, Lyft, and sees that as a way to thread the tricky human and technical issues.

While a fully autonomous car is on the horizon, that’s not GM’s goal out of the gate.

“Right now, we’re looking at what we call an on-demand, autonomous ride-sharing network,” said Kevin Kelly, senior manager of advanced technology communications. “There would still be a steering wheel and acceleration and brake pedals, and there would be a safety driver or pilot in the vehicle.”

Uber, meanwhile, announced last week that it will begin ferrying customers around Pittsburgh by month’s end in self-driving vehicles with a “chaperone” ready to take over when necessary. It hopes to remove costly human drivers in the long run.

Kelly, commenting on GM’s similar approach, said, “We think it’s probably the right solution for getting the customer familiar with the technology.” Using the technology in such a context, he said, “would be more comfortable for the consumers.”

But what does “comfortable” mean?

That’s a key question as automakers and other players head down divergent paths. Are people ready to trust a car without a steering wheel and pedals right off the bat? Or would they feel more comfortable being eased along with a step-by-step approach?

In an online survey in April, researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute presented 618 people, in various age groups, with three visions: Completely self-driving, partially self-driving and no self-driving.

Two-thirds of people reported being moderately or very concerned about riding in a fully self-driving car. In answer to the question, “Would you prefer that a completely self-driving vehicle still have a steering wheel plus gas and brake pedals (or some other controls) to enable a driver to take control if desired?” the results were overwhelming: 94.5 percent wanted a wheel; 5.5 percent did not.

While 37 percent of those surveyed were “very concerned” about being in a completely self-driving vehicle, 17 percent had that same level of concern about riding in a partially self-driving one.

“We think it should be the opposite. . . . We feel that people’s concern is misplaced,” said Brandon Schoettle, project manager for sustainable worldwide transportation at the Michigan institute. “This is a bit of a public relations issue for these companies as you move ahead.”

Given how little experience people have with autonomous cars, Schoettle said it is understandable that they feel more secure being able to jump back in and drive.

“They view it as a vehicle they can take control of when they want,” Schoettle said. But he added, “There are major safety implications of that transfer of control back and forth.”

Zmud, the Texas A&M scientist, did surveys and interviews in Austin and found a 50-50 split between those who intended to use driverless cars and those who did not.

“They are thinking about ‘the car I have now, but sometimes it can drive itself,’ without thinking this will be a brand-new vehicle and it will be very different,” she said.

The Michigan study indicated that drivers 45 and older were significantly more likely to be very concerned about riding in a fully self-driving car. Zmud, following up her Austin online survey with interviews, found that regardless of age, people identified as “early adopters” were more open.

Ford said its initial generation of cars without steering wheels or pedals would be used by ride-hailing and package-delivery services in cities where they could be “geo-fenced,” or restricted to operate in specific geographic zones.

Asked whether the no-steering-wheel approach or a more incremental one will win wider public acceptance, Zmud said: “I think it’s really too early to tell. I think we’re probably going to see both things happening at the same time.”