New Uber feature to silence drivers – but it comes at a price

It is well-known that taxi drivers often like to chat with their customers, but if you prefer a quieter journey, then ride-hailing app Uber has the answer.

However, it comes at a price.

The company, which recently floated on the New York Stock Exchange, is offering customers in the US a new “quiet mode” feature, which allows them to opt out of any unwanted chit-chat.

But it is only available for Uber Black and Uber Black SUV premium rides, which are more expensive as the name suggests.

Image: Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi was on hand as the bell rang to commence trading on the NYSE

There are three options to choose from, “quiet preferred”, “happy to chat” or the setting can be left at “no preference” before paying for a trip.

Uber said of the new feature: “If you need to respond to emails or are in the mood for a nap, make your trip a quieter one with just one tap. If you’re in the mood to chat, that’s an option too.”

The company’s product manager Aydin Ghajar told TechCrunch that a quiet journey was something that customers had wanted to see introduced for some time.

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He told the website: “We’re looking to create more differentiation between the premium products and the regular products to encourage more trips.”

He added: “The reaction of Uber Black drivers was overwhelmingly positive because they want to deliver a great experience to their rider, but they don’t necessarily know what the rider wants.

Uber customers have apparently wanted a quiet option for a while

Image: Uber customers have apparently wanted a quiet option for a while

“These guys take a lot of pride in what they do as customer service agents.”

But Uber drivers will not have to necessarily abide by the requests due to employment laws.

Although they perhaps will in order to avoid a potential bad rating.

The quiet mode is among several new features, including a bags option, which means customers can let their Uber driver know they have luggage, so as to let them pullover and load up the boot.

There is also an option to control the temperature in the car, letting customers choose whether they want it to be nice and warm in their vehicle or whether they like it a bit cooler, allowing their driver to boost the air conditioning.

New Minecraft game aims to build on Pokemon Go success

A new Minecraft game is coming out for mobiles that uses augmented reality to put virtual creations in the real world.

Minecraft Earth will be hoping to have similar success to Pokemon Go, which was a massive hit and saw players searching their neighbourhoods for virtual creatures.

The makers say the new version will allow gamers to “create masterpieces together” and take their builds “into the wild at full size” – and even promise “Minecraft pigs parading around your local park”.

Players will be able to work on a creation at the same time in the same spot.

It is being released to mark the 10th anniversary of the original Minecraft, which became a gaming phenomenon by allowing players to build 3D worlds using different blocks.

Augmented reality games like Minecraft Earth use the phone’s GPS function to place the game’s creations in the real world.

Image: The game is coming out as a beta version this summer. Pic: Mojang/Microsoft

The free game will be coming out on Apple and Android devices this summer as a beta version for a limited number of people, but is later expected to roll out to hundred of thousands of players.

Amazon close to swallowing slice of Deliveroo

Amazon, the internet retailing behemoth, is in talks to invest hundreds of millions of pounds in the British food delivery app Deliveroo, giving it a huge boost in its international battle with rival Uber Eats. 

Sky News can exclusively reveal that Amazon is close to announcing a deal to back Deliveroo as part of a $575m (£450m) fundraising.

Sources said late on Thursday night that the deal was likely to be unveiled by Deliveroo in the coming days.

If confirmed, Amazon is likely to invest a substantial proportion of the funds being raised by the British-based group, which has become one of the biggest players in the so-called ‘gig economy’.

The deal will come just days after Uber Technologies – which has been frequently been tipped to buy Deliveroo – sold shares publicly in New York.

Amazon is the world’s largest internet business, with a market value of roughly $920bn.

Its diversification beyond retailing into the provision of a vast range of services has propelled it into the rarefied ranks of companies worth close to – and on brief occasions more than – $1trn.

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Its excursion into the UK food delivery market was, however, not among its unmitigated successes.

Last December, it closed Amazon Restaurants UK, its London-based takeaway delivery service, amid fierce competition from Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat, among other rivals.

Amazon had previously been reported to have made two approaches to buy Deliveroo outright, while Uber was said to have held preliminary talks with the British company about a takeover.

An investment in Deliveroo would rank among the largest single commitments by Amazon to date in a British-based start-up, although one insider cautioned on Thursday that it could yet fall apart.

The new round of funding will take the total amount of capital invested in Deliveroo to over $1.5bn in the six years since it was launched.

Sky News revealed last year that Will Shu, Deliveroo’s founder and chief executive, had begun talks with prospective investors about a new round of funding.

Many of the details of Amazon’s prospective investment were unclear on Thursday night, including how much of the £450m it would invest directly, and whether it would have an option to buy the company outright in future.

Image: Amazon, the world’s biggest internet business, is worth roughly $920bn

The valuation attributed to Deliveroo through this funding round was also unclear, although sources said last November that it was being pitched at a valuation of between $3bn and $4bn.

Deliveroo’s board, led by Mr Shu, is said to have been keen to crystallise a valuation well in excess of the just over $2bn at which it closed its most recent fundraising 18 months ago.

Deliveroo, which handles takeaway orders for restaurant chains such as Byron, Pizza Express, Rossopomodoro and Wagamama, uses about 15,000 delivery riders in the UK.

An initial public offering is also not out of the question, although it is unlikely to take place in the next year.

Deliveroo more than doubled its revenues in 2017 but also saw losses before tax widen to nearly £185m.

Such losses are not unusual among technology start-ups, which invest heavily to gain scale rapidly during their early years.

The previous Deliveroo fundraising saw major institutional investors Fidelity and T Rowe Price agree to invest in the UK technology company.

At the time, sources close to Deliveroo said it was keen to secure backing from mutual funds which had experience of investing in fast-growth tech companies, then helping them to go public.

Deliveroo has continued to faced controversy over its treatment of the riders who work for it, and did little to dissipate that criticism a year ago when it excluded its army of contractors from a £10m award of stock options to permanent employees.

In 2017, it bowed to pressure by overhauling the “supplier agreement” it uses to set out the terms on which thousands of couriers are employed.

Its revised employment document included the explicit clarification that couriers can work for other companies at the same time as they undertake work for Deliveroo – a key change that MPs had urged in a critical report on the so-called “gig economy”.

Like companies such as Uber and Hermes, the parcel delivery firm, Deliveroo has found itself in the crosshairs of critics who argue that they are riding roughshod over their workforces by refusing to treat them as employees.

Last autumn, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain brought a judicial review to the High Court alleging that Deliveroo riders’ human rights were being breached because they were being denied the right to collective bargaining.

Amazon and Deliveroo declined to comment.

LED lights can cause 'irreversible' damage to eyes – report

The “blue light” in LED lighting can cause damage to the eye’s retina and also disturb natural sleep rhythms, according to a new report.

The French Agency for Food, Environment and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) expressed their concerns in a statement following new findings.

“Exposure to an intense and powerful (LED) light is ‘photo-toxic’ and can lead to irreversible loss of retinal cells and diminished sharpness of vision,” it said.

The agency wrote a 400-page report which distinguished between acute exposure of high-intensity LED light and “chronic exposure” to lower intensity sources.

Chronic exposure can “accelerate the ageing of retinal tissue, contributing to a decline in visual acuity and certain degenerative diseases such as age-related macular degeneration,” the agency concluded.

Image: Back-lit devices such as LED mobile phones can ‘disturb biological rhythms’

LED uses only a fifth of the electricity needed for an incandescent bulb of comparable brightness.

They are used in a whole host of electrical products, including lighting in the home and street lighting.

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Back-lit devices such as LED mobile phones can “disturb biological rhythms, and thus sleep patterns” especially when they are used at night or in a dark setting, according to the agency.

Some LED lights can induce “headaches, visual fatigue and a higher risk of accidents,” the report said.

ANSES also said that manufacturers should “limit the luminous intensity of vehicle headlights,” as some are considered too bright.

The agency has also cast doubt over the efficiency of some “anti-blue light” filters and sunglasses.

Why it's tempting to feel sorry for Huawei

Huawei has achieved quite the feat: in the space of a year, it’s gone from a little known company in the US to a “national emergency”.

US President Donald Trump didn’t name the Chinese telecoms business in his executive order.

At this stage, he doesn’t have to: Huawei’s notoriety in the current administration means we all know who he’s talking about.

The order effectively bans Huawei from the US market. That’s less of a big deal than you might suppose.

First off, Huawei has already been banned from federal networks. And it doesn’t have much of a presence stateside.

Its huge revenues – $107bn (£83bn) in 2018 – overwhelmingly come from China and the rest of the world.

However, another statement is more worrying for the company.

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US has ‘called it wrong’ on ban says Huawei

The US Commerce Department added Huawei to its “entity” list. This means that American companies cannot sell technology to Huawei without a special licence.

For all its undoubted and home grown prowess in 5G networks, Huawei still relies on American technology, from chips to software.

The US applied a similar order to ZTE, another Chinese telecoms business and it was a hammer blow.

Chinese President Xi Jinping asked Mr Trump to remove the order as part of trade negotiations. Mr Trump said he did so as a favour to Mr Xi, keeping the company alive.

The electronic display on a Huawei mobile wifi device, in London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday April 25, 2019. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Huawei ‘to go extra mile’ to reassure world on 5G spying

Huawei is better placed than its compatriot company but will still be put under pressure.

That sort of favour is unlikely this time.

Relations between the US and China have deteriorated since then as both sides have imposed new tariffs on each other’s imports.

Mr Trump is still a fan of “King” Xi as he likes to call him – even more so, perhaps, after he said that Mr Xi wrote him a very nice letter last week.

But no deal has been reached between the two sides and we’re closer to a full-blown trade war than we’ve ever been.

Huawei gets green light for role in UK 5G network

Huawei gets green light for role in UK 5G network

Senior security chiefs warn of the risks in allowing a Chinese firm to access the UK’s communications network

Up against the might of the US state, it’s almost tempting to feel sorry for Huawei.

This is after all a private company being targeted by a government. And the company has fought a vigorous and successful rear guard action: it persuaded the UK that it could be trusted on at least some 5G networks, in defiance of the US’s networks.

And you could argue that Huawei finds itself in the crossfire of a new age of strategic competition between the US and China.

But Huawei is undoubtedly close to the Chinese state.

For years, that was a benefit, acting as a business with tacit government support.

The downside is that Huawei’s future now does not depend on business or economic decisions, but geopolitical ones.

Why we should be worried about the suspected WhatsApp hackers

For most people, most of the time, hacks are like natural disasters. They arise, seemingly out of nowhere, then die down, leaving devastation in their wake.

Stories about the damage may dribble out later, but most of the details remain a mystery. Very often, we don’t know who performed the hack.

We’re unlikely to find out what they did with the data they stole. We may know a name of the company or institution that was targeted, but the identities of the victims are lost to posterity.

This latest surveillance attack is different.

We know for the most part how it was achieved: using a major security vulnerability in messaging app WhatsApp.

We know who was targeted: human rights lawyers and campaigners, including staff at Amnesty International.

Most unusually, we also know – or believe we know – the identity of the culprit.

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What you need to do about the WhatsApp vulnerability

Political dissidents, human rights defenders, opposition politicians and journalists in 45 countries may have been targeted

This attack has been linked to secretive Israeli firm NSO Group, best known for developing Pegasus – spyware that can read phone messages, track calls and videos, trace the location of a phone and even collect passwords.

In the cybersecurity community, the news caused shock, but little surprise.

“It’s not surprising that NSO came up with it,” one source told me. “They are quite quick to give demos on these things to potential customers.

“They don’t reveal specifics, but they walk you into a room and show you the real time exploitation of an iPhone.”

A hack on one of the most popular messaging channels in the world is worrying enough. Yet what makes this attack especially concerning is the identity of NSO’s customers and their reported targets.

NSO Group sells its software to governments around the world, in particular in the Middle East, a business that has given it a market valuation of around $1bn (£770m). This single bug alone will have meant millions of pounds in revenue.

Jamal Khashoggi

Image: Friends of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi claim his phone was infiltrated with Pegasus

The firm claims its software has been used to defeat terrorists and drug cartels.

But if these reports are correct, then that same software – which doesn’t need its victim to click on a link or open a document, but can be directed precisely by the attacker at the time and place of their choosing – is being used to target human rights campaigners.

This isn’t the first time these accusations have been aired. Friends of the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi allege that his phone was infiltrated by Pegasus before he was killed by Saudi government hitmen.

The revelations raise troubling questions about the international trade in spyware, which until recently was believed to be restricted to agencies such as GCHQ.

Now, it seems, this weaponised software is for sale to anyone at a price – and not even the engineers of the world’s biggest tech firms can keep it at bay.

Moon is shrinking 'like a raisin' and shaking, says NASA

The moon is shrinking as its interior cools which is causing “moonquakes” on its surface, NASA has said.

It has slimmed down by about 150ft (50m) during the last several hundred million years, according to the US space agency.

According to NASA, the moon gets “wrinkles” – just as a grape wrinkles when it shrinks down to a raisin.

However, the moon’s surface crust is not flexible like a raisin, but brittle, it said.

This means when the moon shrinks it creates “thrust faults” – where one area of the crust pushes up over another neighbouring part of the surface.

Image: ‘Moonquakes’ have been recorded on the lunar surface. Pic: NASA

Seisometers were placed on the lunar surface by astronauts during the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15 and 16 missions to measure the strength of the quakes.

A total of 28 moonquakes were recorded between 1969 and 1977 – measuring 2 to 5 on the Richter scale.

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The moment magnitude scale measures a quake in terms of the amount of energy that is released and is now the most commonly used worldwide to log large events.

Nasa to send humans to the moon again

Nasa to send humans to the moon again

The space agency says it wants astronauts to spend more time on the lunar surface

Researchers examining the seismic data gathered during NASA’s Apollo missions traced the location of some of the quakes to step-shaped cliffs called scarps on the lunar surface.

They formed relatively recently, in geological terms, due to the ongoing subtle shrinking of the moon as its hot interior cools.

New analysis of the data found that six of the quakes happened when the moon was at its farthest point from the Earth in its orbit.

Thomas Watters, lead author of the study, said: “Our analysis gives the first evidence that these faults are still active and likely producing moonquakes today as the moon continues to gradually cool and shrink.

The famous 'Earthrise' photo from Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon. The crew entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968. That evening, the astronauts held a live broadcast, showing pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft.

Image: The famous ‘Earthrise’ photo from Apollo 8

NASA said detailed images taken of the surface by its lunar reconnaissance orbiter (LRO) spacecraft showed landslides and boulder tracks – further evidence that these faults are active.

John Keller, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, said: “It’s really remarkable to see how data from nearly 50 years ago and from the LRO mission has been combined to advance our understanding of the moon while suggesting where future missions intent on studying the moon’s interior processes should go.”

NASA announced earlier this year that it wants to send the first woman, and the next man, to the moon by 2024.

Renee Weber, a planetary seismologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre, said establishing a new network of seismometers on the lunar surface “should be a priority for human exploration of the moon, both to learn more about the moon’s interior and to determine how much of a hazard moonquakes present”.

The study was published in the journal, Nature Geoscience.

Antibiotics could help thousands of women through assisted delivery

New research shows that giving all women who need an assisted delivery a single dose of antibiotics cuts the risk of infection by almost half.

Just one in 10 women (11%) suffered an infection when given antibiotics, compared with one in five (19%) of those given a placebo drug, the study found.

Experts said current guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) should be updated.

Image: The women given antibiotics were much less likely to visit a GP

Giving antibiotics would cut infections in new mothers by more than 7,000 in the UK every year – including life-threatening sepsis.

The research, published in The Lancet medical journal, was based on a clinical trial carried out at 27 UK maternity units.

Women were split into two groups. The first group of 1,715 women was given a single dose of amoxicillin and clavulanic acid as soon as possible and no more than six hours after giving birth.

The second group of 1,705 women was given a placebo.

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In total, 65% of the babies were delivered by forceps and 35% by ventouse, with 89% of all women needing an episiotomy (a cut to make the vaginal opening bigger).

At the end of the study, 180 women in the amoxicillin and clavulanic acid group had a confirmed or suspected infection (11% of 1,619 women).

This compared with 306 women in the placebo group (19% of 1,606 women) – showing antibiotics cut the risk of infection almost in half.

From the infections, there was a 56% reduction in cases of sepsis, with 11 cases in the antibiotic group compared with 25 cases in the placebo group.

Professor Marian Knight from the University of Oxford, who led the research, said: “These findings highlight the urgent need to change current WHO antibiotic guidelines and other guidance from organisations in the UK, North America, and Australasia, that do not recommend routine antibiotic prophylaxis for assisted childbirth.

“Pregnancy-associated infection is a major cause of death and serious illness.

“Almost one in five women develop an infection after assisted vaginal delivery and our results show that this could be reduced by almost half by a single dose of prophylactic antibiotic.”

The study is the largest of its kind to date.

What you need to do about the WhatsApp vulnerability

WhatsApp has confirmed that a vulnerability in its app could allow hackers to take control of victims’ phones just by sending an unanswered voice call.

Dozens of WhatsApp users including human rights organisations and a UK-based lawyer may have been targeted in the attack.

The attack was only used against “a select number of users” according to WhatsApp, but it could be adopted more widely unless people update their version of the app.

What do you need to do?

Although it is extremely unlikely that you have been targeted by these hackers, you should update your version of WhatsApp.

On an Android device, you can do this by visiting the Play Store app. Tap menu, before entering the my apps & games section. If you’re not already on the most recent version of WhatsApp you can tap update.

On an iPhone, you can do this by visiting the App Store. Search for WhatsApp. Again, if you’re not already using the most recent version you can tap update.

How can you safeguard against it?

The attack is being considered extraordinary by cyber security professionals.

This is not just because it targeted lawyers, who are not usually national security targets and whose communications with those targets – at least in many common law countries – are privileged.

It has caught their attention because there was no way to safeguard against it – not even by training users to spot the dodgy message.

Often cyber attacks require some kind of user input to succeed, whether the user clicks “allow” or “yes” on a pop-up, or follows a link, or downloads and executes a malicious file in a phishing email under the impression that it is innocent.

However, the WhatsApp attack was what was known as a “no-click” attack, meaning there was no user input needed at all – the hackers could just send the voice call, and even if it was not answered, gain access to the target’s phone.

The only protection is to update the version of WhatsApp.

Is this related to the forwarding limit?

WhatsApp introduced a forwarding limit this year to tackle the spread of fake news.

The current bug has nothing to do with these changes and was caused by a “buffer overflow” vulnerability in the Secure Real-time Transport Protocol (SRTP) used by WhatsApp – essentially a mistake in the way the program handled using computer memory.

It is not known exactly how the exploit worked, but it is believed that malicious code may have been included in the details which are sent to a receiver’s phone when a user makes a WhatsApp call, such as the caller’s name and number.

Image: The bug is not related to the forwarding limit

Who did this?

WhatsApp stated that “a select number of users” were targeted by an “advanced cyber actor”, which the Financial Times has identified as the Israeli technology company NSO Group.

NSO Group claims its technology, known as Pegasus, is only used by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Critics of the firm, including human rights organisations, have claimed that many of the state agencies it works with are repressive and often target their lawyers and activists.

How did it happen?

Organisations involved in the production of hacking tools – known as “dual-use technologies” because they can have both civilian and military uses – often hire security researchers to identify vulnerabilities in popular software and develop tools to exploit them.

Last November, UK intelligence agency GCHQ revealed its process for identifying these vulnerabilities and figuring out whether to inform the company that produces the software to get them fixed or whether to exploit them to hack the computers of national security targets.

The export of these technologies is heavily regulated and Amnesty International is currently taking the Israeli ministry of defence to court to challenge the NSO Group’s export licenses.

A map of countries where victims have been targeted. Pic: Citizen Lab

Image: A map of countries where victims have been targeted. Pic: Citizen Lab

How do you know if this attack has affected your phone?

There is currently no way to tell if this has affected your phone. However, the attack is expensive and it is unlikely – at the moment – to be carried out by commodity criminals.

According to Citizen Lab, software believed to have been developed by NSO Group has been used to target and persecute political dissidents, human rights defenders, opposition politicians and journalists in 45 countries.

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