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AT&T Customers to Receive More Than $88M in Refunds Following Mobile Cramming Settlement

AT&TThe United States Federal Trade Commission today announced that it is giving more than $88 million in refunds to 2.7 million AT&T customers who had unauthorized third-party charges added to their service bills, something better known as "mobile cramming."

The refunds come from a $105 million settlement AT&T paid the FTC back in October of 2014, after the carrier was accused of allowing third-party companies to bill customers for things like ringtone subscriptions without their consent. Money was also collected from Tatto and Acquinity, two companies involved in the cramming scheme.

Nearly 2.5 million AT&T customers can expect to receive a credit on their bill within the next 75 days, and over 300,000 former customers will be given refund checks. The FTC says the average refund amount customers will receive is $31, and checks are going out starting today.
"AT&T received a high volume of complaints related to mobile cramming prior to the FTC and other federal and state agencies stepping in on consumers' behalf," said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. "I am pleased that consumers are now being refunded their money and that AT&T has changed its mobile billing practices."
According to the FTC, the AT&T refunds being provided to customers represent the most money that's ever been returned to consumers in a mobile cramming case.

Up until late 2014, AT&T and several third-party companies were charging customers up to $9.99 per month for subscriptions that provided sham services like ringtones, horoscopes, love tips, and more, with AT&T keeping 35 percent of the money that was taken from its subscribers.

Other mobile carriers, such as T-Mobile, had similar cramming practices. Back in December of 2014, T-Mobile agreed to pay out $90 million in fines.

Recently, AT&T also agreed to pay out an additional $7.75 million for a separate issue that allowed scammers to charge AT&T customers $9 per month for a fake directory service.

Tags: FTC, AT&T

Apple Seeds Sixth macOS Sierra 10.12.2 Beta to Developers and Public Beta Testers

Apple today seeded the sixth beta of an upcoming macOS Sierra 10.12.2 update to developers and public beta testers, a few days after releasing the fifth 10.12.2 beta and over a month after the public release of macOS 10.12.1.

macOS Sierra 10.12.2 beta 6 is available for download through the Apple Developer Center or through the software update mechanism in the Mac App Store.

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macOS Sierra 10.12.2 includes new emoji, introducing Unicode 9 characters like clown face, selfie, face palm, fox face, owl, shark, butterfly, avocado, bacon, and more, plus many profession emoji are available in both male and female genders.

Apple has also updated the artwork on many existing emoji characters, adding detail to make them look less cartoonish and more realistic. New wallpapers are also included in macOS Sierra 10.12.2, introducing the color explosion options that were previously used in iPhone marketing materials.

There are few other outward-facing changes aside from the addition of new emoji and wallpapers, but the 10.12.2 update also includes some important bug fixes. A serious graphics issue that has been affecting some new MacBook Pro owners has been solved, and a Time Machine crashing issue, also impacting the new MacBook Pro, has been fixed.

Available since September, macOS Sierra is the latest Mac operating system. It includes Siri support, Apple Pay for the web, Universal Clipboard, Apple Watch auto unlocking, improved iCloud Drive integration, Picture-in-Picture multitasking, and dozens of smaller features that can be found in our macOS Sierra roundup.

Related Roundup: macOS Sierra

Apple CEO Tim Cook to Deliver 2017 MIT Commencement Address

cook_heroApple CEO Tim Cook will deliver the 2017 Commencement address at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the university announced today.
"Mr. Cook's brilliance as a business leader, his genuineness as a human being, and his passion for issues that matter to our community make his voice one that I know will resonate deeply with our graduates," MIT President L. Rafael Reif says. "I am delighted that he will join us for Commencement and eagerly await his charge to the Class of 2017."
In a statement, Cook said he was looking forward to speaking to MIT's graduating class in 2017. The Commencement will take place on Friday, June 9.
"Apple stands at the intersection of liberal arts and technology, and we're proud to have many outstanding MIT graduates on our team," Cook says. "We believe deeply that technology can be a powerful force for good, and I'm looking forward to speaking to the Class of 2017 as they look ahead to making their own mark on the world."
Cook has previously given Commencement speeches at George Washington University and Auburn University, his alma mater.

Tag: Tim Cook

New Photos Offer an Inside Look at Apple Campus 2

Apple shared some updated photos and information on its spaceship-shaped second campus with employees, which French site MacGeneration managed to get a hold of. The photos give a detailed view of the exterior building, and give us one of our first glimpses at its interior.

Apple Campus 2 has been in development for more than two years, and is nearing its completion date. We've seen a series of monthly drone videos cataloguing progress at the site, and as of December, much of the main ring-shaped building is finished, with Apple now working on landscaping.

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Just recently, Apple installed the glass panels for the atrium of the main building, which will be used as a cafeteria for employees. Along with the cafeteria, there will be vast outdoor eating spaces covered with greenery native to California.

applecampusatrium
The floor-to-ceiling doors of the atrium are each made from 10 glass pieces and are similar to the giant glass doors that were introduced in Apple's San Francisco Apple Store. The doors open an entire side of the building to let in light and air for an outdoor feel.

To install the doors, Apple has used cranes outfitted with suction cups to hold the glass in place while it's secured into the building.

applecampusglassdoors
The ceiling of the ring-shaped building is equipped with a series of skylights that will let in natural light, while cutouts in marble walls will house speakers in some areas. Close attention has been paid to the smallest of details, and Apple says in just one access tunnel, it's taken 60 workers five months to lay small tiles on the curved walls. Ledges extending out over windows block light, as do built-in window shades.

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Outside, full-sized trees and other plants are being installed. Ahead of being added to the campus, many of the trees were grown at a local nursery. Apple has said more than 3,000 species of trees will be on the campus, including many fruit trees.

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Apple plans to finish construction on the campus in the first quarter of 2017, though landscaping work will extend into the second quarter of the year. Apple CEO Tim Cook has said employees will begin working at the campus in early 2017.

European Union Moves Forward With Plans to Eliminate Roaming Charges Next Year

European Commission members met on Wednesday to discuss draft rules intended to eliminate roaming charges in the European Union as of June 15, 2017.

iphone-roaming
(Image: TapSmart)

The Commission said it is determined to put an end to roaming charges commonly billed by carriers when a customer calls, sends messages, or uses data on their mobile device while abroad in the European Union, outside of their primary country of residence, subject to proportionate checks for abusive usage.

European regulators have proposed a "Roam like at Home" solution that would allow travelers to call, text, and browse the web on their mobile devices when abroad in the European Union for no extra charge than the price they pay at home. It is not intended to be used for permanent roaming.

"Roam like at Home" is aimed at people who travel in the European Union for work or leisure. "They spend more time at home than they do abroad, and they make most of their calls, texts and use data in their home country," the Commission explained.
Example: with his €70 per month contract, Tim living in Netherlands gets unlimited calls, texts and data for his smartphone. When he travels abroad on holidays, he will have unlimited calls and text. For data, he will get twice the equivalent of €70 worth of data at the wholesale roaming data price cap, i.e. 0.85 cent/MB according to the Commission wholesale proposal, meaning more than 16 GB in this case. While roaming, he will get twice the volume he has paid for.
The latest draft further clarifies consumer rights, such as ensuring that customers abusing a carrier's roaming policy are not subject to over-intrusive background checks and establishing a minimum alert period of 14 days before roaming charges can be imposed on customers who exceed fair usage.

The revised rules also introduce safeguards to ensure carriers remain competitive. Customers can be asked to prove they live or have "stable links" to a specific country before "Roam like at Home" is included in their contract, while those roaming excessively can be sent a warning message and/or small roaming charge.
If, over a 4-month period, billing data suggests that a consumer has been more abroad than at home, but also consumed more data while travelling in the European Union, the operator can send a warning message. This message will warn the consumers that they have two weeks to inform their operator about their travel situation, or to change their travel or use patterns. Only a very small roaming charge […] can then be applied.
The proposed surcharges for customers who exceed fair usage are €0.04/minute per call, €0.01 per SMS, and €0.0085 per MB of data usage.

The draft legislation has now been sent to representatives for each European Union member state, who will meet on December 12 to vote on the text. Afterwards, the European Commission will be able to adopt the rules.

EU member states include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

In September, the Commission said the European government agreed to its proposal to end roaming charges in Europe. This week, the Commission said it will be steadfast to ensure an agreement is reached as soon as possible.

Samsung Matches Jet Black iPhone With New Glossy 'Black Pearl' Galaxy S7 Edge

Samsung as rumored last month has announced the Galaxy S7 edge will be available in a new "Black Pearl" color in select markets starting tomorrow. The glossy finish, exclusive to 128GB versions of the smartphone, will inevitably draw comparisons to the Jet Black iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

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Samsung already offered the Galaxy S7 edge and ill-fated Galaxy Note7 in a somewhat glossy Black Onyx finish, so we will have to wait for actual photos of the new Black Pearl color to see the difference between the two colorways. Samsung said the all-black finish "radiates quality and luxury."
Black Pearl was designed to be modern and striking. The sleek black finish blankets the entire device – edges and all – and adds depth to its glass design. The result is a stylish all-black aesthetic that captures the essence of the color in its purest form.
The new color arrives nearly two months after Samsung permanently discontinued the Galaxy Note7 following battery-related safety risks.

Samsung following in the footsteps of iPhone colors is not unprecedented. Earlier this year, it released the Galaxy S7 in Pink Gold after Apple launched the iPhone 6s in Rose Gold last year. However, in Samsung's defense, it has offered some variation of a pink smartphone in select markets since at least 2012.

The new color follows reports Samsung's next-generation Galaxy S8 will not include a headphone jack, following in the footsteps of the Moto Z in June and iPhone 7 in September. The Galaxy S8 is also said to have a bezel-free display and virtual home button, two features rumored for Apple's next iPhones.

Samsung's Galaxy S8 to Beat Next iPhone to Bezel-Free Display and Virtual Home Button

Samsung will beat Apple to the punch in next year's smartphone wars by including features in its Galaxy S8 handset that have long been rumored for the 2017 "iPhone 8", such as a bezel-free wraparound OLED screen with a virtual home button embedded in the display.

Bloomberg on Thursday referred in its favored manner to "people with direct knowledge of the matter" who said that Samsung is targeting a March release for the redesigned S8, but that launch could be delayed by about a month as the company adopts tougher testing procedures in the wake of the Note 7 debacle. Apple's smartphone launch cycle usually runs on a yearly September release.

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Samsung is understandably wary of the dangers of rushing its smartphone development after quality control reportedly suffered in the company's race to release the feature-rich, but ultimately fire-prone, Note 7.
"Since the phones have a record of burning up, it needs time for these phones to be verified as safe. How safe the phones turn out to be is more important than any hardware innovation," said Greg Roh, an analyst at HMC Investment Securities Co. "It will take about a month or two for people to actually start opening their pockets," he said.
The bezel-less devices will come in sizes similar to Samsung's 5.1-inch and 5.5-inch S7 Edge models. Samsung is also said to be introducing a "significantly differentiated" voice-activated personal AI assistant in the handsets that will be able to send text messages, make phone calls and manage calendar schedules. The AI technology will come courtesy of Viv Labs, which was founded by the developers of Apple's Siri and acquired by Samsung in October. Samsung is considering scrapping dual-cameras on the S8 due to high manufacturing costs, Bloomberg sources said. According to a separate report, the models will also drop the headphone jack.

Chinese phone maker Xiaomi made a splash back in October by debuting an almost bezel-less display with the Mi Mix "concept phone", boasting a screen that covers 91 percent of the front of the handset. While Xiaomi's limited-availability phone was more a proof of concept than a device ready for the mass market, both Samsung and Apple will be relying on the mainstream appeal of similarly standout features to boost unit sales in a stagnant market short on innovation.

In the near term, Samsung is desperate to bounce back from the impact of this year's Note 7 recall and discontinuation, which could end up costing the company more than $6 billion. The Korean-based firm reported a 17 percent drop in net income in the three months ending September, and has advised investors to expect a multibillion dollar slump in earnings in the December and March quarters as its market share struggles to recover.

As well as a bezel-free OLED display and virtual home button, Apple is said to be readying an all-glass casing and wireless charging for its 10th anniversary iPhone, with the possibility of a new 5-inch premium model and two lower tier aluminum models also in the offing.

Bluetooth 5 With 4x Longer Range and 2x Faster Speed is Officially Approved

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group today announced that the Bluetooth 5 standard has been officially adopted, which means manufacturers are now able to build it into their devices.

The next-generation Bluetooth standard offers longer range, faster speed, a larger broadcast message capacity, and better interoperability with other wireless technologies.

bluetooth5
Compared to existing Bluetooth 4.2 protocol, Bluetooth 5 offers four times the range, two times the speed, and eight times the broadcast message capacity, bringing whole home coverage and more reliable connections between connected devices.
"This means whole-home and building coverage, as well as new use cases for outdoor, industrial, and commercial applications will be a reality. With the launch of Bluetooth 5, we continue to evolve to meet the needs of IoT developers and consumers while staying true to what Bluetooth is at its core: the global wireless standard for simple, secure, connectivity."
With the debut of Bluetooth 5, SIG's Bluetooth naming convention will drop all references to version and point number going forward, simplifying marketing.

Devices that adopt Bluetooth 5 will be available within two to six months, meaning the next-generation products Apple plans to debut in 2017, including the iPhone 8, may offer Bluetooth 5 support.

macOS 10.12.2 Fixes Time Machine Backup Crashing Issue on New MacBook Pro

Apple in the latest macOS Sierra beta appears to have fixed a common issue where transferring files to an external hard drive or SSD connected to a Thunderbolt 3 port caused the new MacBook Pro to crash for some users.

time-machine-2016-macbook-pro
MacRumors forum member Dave Miles claims he received an email response from Apple's software engineering chief Craig Federighi, who apologized for the inconvenience and confirmed the issue has been fixed in the fifth macOS 10.12.2 beta seeded to developers and public testers on Monday.

While we have not been able to verify the authenticity of the email beyond a reasonable doubt, the issue does appear to be fixed regardless.

At least a half-dozen users claim the fifth beta of macOS 10.12.2 addresses the crashing issues, which most often affected users backing up their new MacBook Pro to an external drive with Time Machine using a wired connection. Some users also reported crashing issues when transferring files between two external drives.

MacRumors forum member TreadEverSoLightly succinctly described the dilemma that a number of other users faced:
I'm already on my 2nd MacBook Pro. Picked up last Wednesday and swapped it for another model 2 days later after experiencing crashing while my laptop backs up via Time Machine to an external HD. Computer freezes up during data transfer and refuses to acknowledge my inputs. Then crashes and restarts itself.
It is unclear what the underlying problem was, with some users speculating it could have been related to USB driver, firmware, or software issues. Others believe large file transfers contributed to the problem. Ultimately, what matters the most is the issue now appears to be resolved.

MacRumors forum member saba01 is one of several users who delivered the good news today following weeks of complaints:
I had the same issue. My MacBook Pro crashed when transferring large files (over 4TB). I installed macOS 10.12.2 and the problem is solved! Yesterday I did a 40TB backup with no problems at all!
macOS Sierra 10.2.2 will likely be publicly released as a free software update later this month following completion of beta testing.

Related Roundups: MacBook Pro, macOS Sierra
Tag: Time Machine
Buyer's Guide: MacBook Pro (Buy Now)

Apple Negotiating to Offer Rentals for Movies Still in Theaters, but at a Price

Apple wants to bring new movies to iTunes more quickly, and is in talks with several film studios over rights that would allow it earlier access to content, reports Bloomberg.

Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, and 21st Century Fox are all seeking deals to offer higher-priced rentals of new movies as soon as two weeks after they debut in theaters, and the studios are said to be considering an offer from Apple.

itunesmovies
Like Apple Music exclusives, access to earlier releases could draw more people to Apple's platform, but encryption is said to be a concern. Studios aren't sure whether iTunes will be a secure platform for showing movies that are still in theaters, because content can be recorded and leaked online.
The most recent talks are part of longer-running efforts by Cupertino, California-based Apple to get new movies sooner, two of the people said. Such an arrangement could help iTunes stand out in a crowded online market for movies, TV shows and music. While the iTunes store helped Apple build a dominant role in music retailing, the company hasn't carved out a similar role in music and video streaming.
Most major movies that debut in theaters are not available on iTunes and other streaming platforms for a period of 90 days, but film companies are said to be looking to expand beyond theaters to find new revenue streams.

At least one option studios are considering involves a $25 to $50 fee for a new rental, which is potentially more affordable than a movie theater ticket depending on how many people are watching a film.

No deal has been established as of yet, and it's possible the film studios could decide to offer the rights to a competing company.

Related Roundups: Apple TV, tvOS 10
Tags: iTunes, bloomberg.com
Buyer's Guide: Apple TV (Caution)

Apple's AI Team Working on LiDAR, Smaller Neural Networks, Image Processing and More

At an exclusive invitation-only lunch at an AI conference in Barcelona, Spain that took place on December 6, Apple head of machine learning Russ Salakhutdinov and other Apple employees talked about their work on artificial intelligence.

Quartz has obtained some of the slides that Salakhutdinov used during the presentation, giving us a glimpse at the advancements Apple is making in AI and machine learning.

Based on one of the slides, topics at the lunch were wide-ranging, including health and vital signs, volumetric detection of LiDAR, prediction with structured outputs, image processing and colorization, intelligent assistant and language modeling, and activity recognition.

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One of the slides, related to Apple's LiDAR work, featured a picture of two cars, but Apple engineers did not mention cars or any automotive research, such as self-driving vehicles. Another slide focused on Apple's image recognition algorithms, which are able to process 3,000 images per second, twice as fast as Google's capabilities. Apple's work on smaller neural networks that can run directly on devices was also covered.
Another slide focused on Apple's ability to build neural networks that are 4.5 times smaller than the originals with no loss in accuracy, and twice the speed. The technique, not unknown in AI research, uses a larger, more robust neural network to teach another network the decisions it would make in a variety of situations. The "student" network then has a streamlined version of the "teacher" network's knowledge. In essence, it predicts the larger network's predictions about a given photo or audio sample.
The discussion also covered some of Apple's research focus areas:

- Deep generative models
- Model compression
- Holistic scene understanding
- Model reliability
- Deep reinforcement learning
- Unsupervised learning, transfer learning, one-shot learning
- Reasoning, attention & memory
- Efficient training on distributed computing

Going forward, Apple plans to allow its AI and machine learning researchers to start publishing papers, marking its willingness to contribute to the research community. Apple has always been notoriously secretive, but allowing researchers to publish could attract top talent that would not otherwise want to join the company.

A full rundown of the slides from Apple's presentation can be seen over at Quartz.

T-Mobile's New 'Digits' Service Lets Customers Use Multiple Numbers Across All Their Devices

T-Mobile is famous for uncoupling device costs from mobile service plans through its "Uncarrier" initiatives, a move that changed the entire smartphone industry, and now the company is aiming to do the same thing with phone numbers.

T-Mobile's newly announced "Digits" service lets customers use their phone number across multiple devices, including smartphones, tablets, wearables, and PCs, while also allowing multiple phone numbers to be used on a single device.

Many people have separate phone numbers for work and personal use, and the Digits service, which is a souped-up blend of AT&T's NumberSync and Google Voice, puts both numbers on one smartphone. And then those numbers can be used on any device a customer owns, even if it's not on the T-Mobile network.

"Simply put, DIGITS is breakthrough technology that won't be replicated any time soon," said Mike Sievert, Chief Operating Officer of T-Mobile. "This isn't the first time you can add extra numbers to a device, but this IS the first time you can do it all -- multiple numbers on one device and one number on multiple devices - and do it with carrier-grade quality. DIGITS is your real T-Mobile number with every bit of the reliability, call prioritization, services and mobility you expect."
While Digits is built directly into newer Samsung smartphones like the Note 5 and Galaxy S6 and later (purchased on the T-Mobile network), on iOS devices, Digits will be available through an iOS app. On the Mac, Digits will work through the browser.

When Digits is used on a device without cellular service, voice calls and texts will be received over a Wi-Fi connection, delivering "crystal clear HD voice quality."

Simple Choice and T-Mobile ONE customers can sign up to test a beta version of the Digits service. iOS 9 and newer, Android 5.0 and newer, and Firefox or Google Chrome are required.

During the beta testing phase, Digits is free, but it will require customers to pay an additional fee when it launches next year. Pricing has not yet been announced.