Your Amazon Order Might Lock You Out of Trusted Traveler Programs

You wouldn’t think online shopping could get you in trouble with customs, but if you accidentally order counterfeit merchandise on Amazon it just might. If you plan on doing a lot of traveling, you probably want to double check your orders from now on.

Last year, Harper Reed, an engineer at Paypal, ordered a suitcase on Amazon. It was a Rimowa, which is a high-end luggage brand that usually costs several hundred dollars. On Twitter (see below), Reed explained that he paid full price for the suitcase and that the listing looked like any other item being sold on Amazon—except it wasn’t. Reed never received the suitcase, was quickly refunded his payment of $700, and then went to Neiman Marcus to purchase it there instead. No explanation from Amazon was given and, while he was a bit perturbed, he carried on with his life.

Then, come November, Reed applied for renewal of his Global Entry status, a Trusted Traveler program for “pre-approved, low risk travelers” offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It speeds up the airport security process for approved travelers, saving you a lot of time and grief. But to Reed’s surprise, he was denied. Unbeknownst to him, customs had flagged him for importing some counterfeit goods. Guess what it was? That’s right, the Rimowa suitcase he never actually received. According to Hilary George-Parkin at Racked, a spokesperson for CBP confirmed that having past violation of customs laws or regulations on your record can make you ineligible for Trusted Traveler programs. Whether it’s intentional or accidental, you’re screwed. You can appeal the denial, but the process can take months, making every trip you take during that time a frustrating experience.

So what happened? It’s impossible to say for sure (CBP doesn’t release specifics), but U.S Customs probably intercepted the shipment of the counterfeit bag as soon as it arrived, then Rimowa was sent a seizure notice with the names of the importer and exporter who are breaking the law. Meanwhile, Reed was refunded for the bag and carried on none the wiser. From there, Rimowa likely had an opportunity to take some kind of action, but since going after the exporter is a costly pain in the butt (as is the middle-man, Amazon), they chose the easier target: Reed. He got flagged for importing counterfeits, and was thus denied Global Entry.

Counterfeits and scams from fraudulent third-party sellers is a growing issue on the Amazon marketplace, so it’s more important than ever for you to pay close attention to the items you’re buying—especially if they’re being shipped to you from overseas. Watch out for massive discounts, learn how to spot fake reviews, double check who you’re buying from, and don’t hesitate to reach out to Amazon customer service if something seems amiss. When in doubt, buy luxury and big brand name items directly from their stores and websites. Cases like Reed’s are rare (this may even be the first case like this), but it’s a stark reminder that buyers truly do need to beware.

from Lifehacker

When you lose weight, your fat cells don’t just let go of fat

Every January, fat’s in the crosshairs of health columnists, fitness magazines, and desperate Americans. This year, PopSci looks at the macronutrient beyond its most negative associations. What’s fat good for? How do we get it to go where we want it to? Where does it wander when it’s lost? This, my friends, is Fat Month.

If cells were personified, each fat cell would be an overbearing grandparent who hoards. They’re constantly trying to make you eat another serving of potatoes, and have cabinets stacked with vitamins they never take.

Like that grandparent, your fat cells are always trying to store stuff. Fats? Of course. Vitamins? Heck yeah. Hormones? You bet. Random pollutants and toxins? Sure. Adipose tissue will soak all that up like an oily little sponge and keep it safe until you need it again. That’s the whole point of body fat—to store energy for you. When you lose weight, your fat cells start shrinking, releasing lipids and other fats into your bloodstream. These get broken down, and eventually the smaller molecules exist via your urine or breath.

But adipose cells release all the other molecules they’ve hoarded, too. That includes key hormones like estrogen, along with fat-soluble vitamins and any organic pollutants that found their way into your bloodstream as you gained weight.

Adipose tissue’s tendency to store things is an unfortunate side-effect, because often we need those things to be circulating, not sitting around. Take hormones, for instance. Female body fat actually produces some of its own estrogen in addition to storing it, and the more adipose tissue a person has, the more estrogen they’re exposed to. This is why being overweight puts you at an increased risk of getting breast cancer. Many types of breast cancer are caused by malfunctions in estrogen receptors, which are more likely to go haywire when more estrogen is around to stimulate them.

Vitamins pose the opposite problem. Adipose sucks up available fat-soluble vitamins (those stashed in adipose tissue instead of being excreted in your outgoing urine)—A, D, E, and K—and often doesn’t leave enough for the rest of your body. Studies suggest that obese people tend to suffer from vitamin D deficiencies because it’s all lurking in their adipose tissue. These vitamins can come back out as you lose weight, and as you decrease your body fat, you also allow more of your new vitamin D to stay in your bloodstream. Water-soluble compounds can just be peed out if you take too much of them, but because the vitamins stored in your adipose tissue can continue to build up you can eventually overdose on them. It’s rare, but it does happen.

Fat is also a (temporarily) safe space to store pollutants and other organic chemicals that might otherwise pose a threat. Organochlorine pesticides build up in fat, as do the polychlorinated biphenyls in coolant fluids and other chemicals from the “dirty dozen” of environmental contaminants. These banned chemicals can get into your food supply in small quantities and are stored in your fat, possibly because your body wants to sequester them away from your organs. Bodies don’t seem to store enough of these to become toxic, but the constant build-up leaves you vulnerable to exposure. And they do start to re-emerge when you lose weight.

Since you’re not eliminating all of your body fat at once, this doesn’t seem to pose a problem for most people. You’re dumping toxins into your bloodstream, but you’re also eliminating them through your pee. There’s some evidence that certain pollutants—so-called “persistent organic pollutants”—can stick around in your body fat for years, but so far it seems that natural toxin-elimination methods (also known as peeing) work well enough to get rid of them.

Safe or not, it’s best not to give your body a spot to stash all the hormones and vitamins it can hoard. Our bodies aren’t designed to hold onto excess body fat and stay healthy—that’s why obesity is a risk factor for so many diseases. Getting rid of fat storage is just another reason to try and cut down on your own adiposity this year. Letting someone shame you into thinking you don’t look the way you should is not a wise reason to lose weight, but doing it to be healthier usually is.

Just think: every time you lose a pound of fat, you’ve also literally detoxed yourself without ever having to do one of those terrible juice cleanses (which, by the way, do not work). You’ve used the power of your own body’s filtration systems to get rid of them—and it will thank you for it.

from Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now

Casio’s $50,000 Printer Can Turn Paper Into  Faux Leather, Wood, and Alligator Skin

As a rule, we rarely post news about printers here on Gizmodo because, as a rule, they’re mind-numbingly boring. But Casio’s new Mofrel system does something truly innovative: it can add 3D textures to your printouts, turning flat paper into faux leather, stone, wood, and even simulate embossed stitched fabrics.

Embossing and stitching can all be faked using the Mofrel technology.

The paper you feed into the Mofrel isn’t the same stuff used in the Xerox copier at your work. Each sheet costs around $10, and is noticeably thicker, feeling more like card stock. It’s made up of multiple layers that include a base substrate of thicker paper stock, a layer of carbon molecules applied as a fine powder, and layers on top of that which can be printed on using standard inkjet inks.

A black and white image defines what parts of a printout will be raised, creating the textures.

Using a special plugin for Photoshop, a texture is created by first printing a black and white image. The printout is fed back into the Mofrel printer where it’s hit by IR light.

No alligators were harmed in the making of this printout.

The darker areas of the printout absorb that light, which in turns causes the microscopic carbon particles underneath to expand, pushing the top layer up and creating an added layer of depth and texture you can feel but also see as light falls across it. That printout can then be fed back into the other side of the printer, and finished with standard inkjet inks to add color.

Vinyl? Nope, printed paper.

The effect is incredibly convincing. Looking at a part for the interior of a car that was wrapped in one of these printouts, I would have not been able to visually distinguish it from an actual vinyl, textured fabric. And that’s where Casio is primarily targeting the Mofrel printing technology right now. As with 3D printing, even at $10/per sheet, it’s a much cheaper way to prototype finished objects, without going to the trouble of cutting and re-wrapping actual fabrics again and again, as you make small revisions to a prototype product. This will undoubtedly have a big impact for automakers as they prototype the finished interior of a new vehicle.

The Mofrel printer’s as big as a desk, and as expensive as a car.

So, can you get a Mofrel printer for your home? No. At $50,000 it’s a giant machine expensive machine—almost the size of a desk—that Casio is currently selling to manufacturers. You can’t even get it outside of Japan yet, but I suspect the company wouldn’t turn you down if you wanted to fill a design studio with a bunch of these machines.

Grandma and Grandpa will love photos of their grandkids they can look at, but also feel.

Is there a consumer application for this technology yet? It’s hard to imagine anyone spending $50,000 for a printer like this in their home office. But Casio showed off a photo of a baby you could touch and feel, and undoubtedly grandparents across the country will be the first adopters of this technology when it hits the consumer level.

We’re in Las Vegas at CES 2018! Click here to read our complete coverage.

from Gizmodo

Now the Senate Wants Answers About Apple’s iPhone Throttling Controversy

The fallout over Apple’s decision to throttle the performance of older models of iPhone with degraded batteries has continued to mount despite the company’s apologies, with Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chair Sen. John Thune asking the company to give Congress more information.

Per Reuters, Thune sent a letter on January 9th asking Apple CEO Tim Cook to clarify whether “the large volume of consumer criticism leveled against the company in light of its admission suggests that there should have been better transparency.” He also requested Apple clarify whether it had considered issuing free battery replacements, rebates for new batteries, and whether the company had ever offered customers the ability to opt out of throttling.

Thune’s letter is likely a political maneuver—but congressional involvement or even just grandstanding will add to Apple’s headaches over the matter, which include several lawsuits and the possibility it could motivate states to pass right-to-repair laws. It could also spur renewed speculation Apple deliberately chose the phone-throttling solution with little disclosure in order to push consumers towards upgrading their older iPhones to newer, expensive models.

Apple only admitted that it was throttling phones with degraded batteries after benchmarking companies and Reddit sleuths demonstrated that the affected phones were running at a reduced clock speed. It was eventually forced to apologize and slash the cost of battery replacements from its prior price of $79 to $29. The tech giant also promised to update iOS “with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.”

As the Verge noted, however, Apple could have also avoided this issue by designing phones with bigger batteries that don’t degrade as quickly or making it easier to replace them. Other phone companies including HTC and Motorola have insisted they don’t throttle their phones, though it remains unclear how widespread the practice may be beyond Apple.


from Gizmodo

This Cellular-Connected Smart Credit Card Can Show You How Much Money You’ve Got Left to Spend

In the United States, the big banks have been very slow to adopt new credit and debit card technologies, with secure chip cards only being introduced in the past few years. Which is tragic, because Dynamics is introducing a new connected credit card with a GSM chip inside, and an E-Ink display, that’s no thicker than the cards already in your wallet.

That magnetic strip can be reprogrammed, at the push of a button, to emulate different cards as needed.

Dynamics has been working to improve the technology in banking cards for years now, previously introducing technologies like a rewritable magnetic strip allowing a single card to be used for banking ATM withdrawls, credit card purchases, or as a loyalty card by simply pressing a button to reprogram how it functions. For example, one of the big banks in Canada now offers a debit card, created by Dynamics, that doubles as a loyalty card for a popular coffee shop.

Dynamics’ newest card, the connected Wallet Card, now introduces a 65,000 pixel E-Ink display that can be used to show everything from corporate logos, to a credit or debit card number, to the card owner’s name. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, without adding any thickness, the new Wallet Card also has a GSM cellular antenna inside that connects to the Sprint network.

A cellular connection on your credit card means you never have to be mailed a replacement if it gets compromised. It can be instantly reprogrammed with a new card number.

What good is all that extra tech inside? Where do I begin? Like the company’s previous products, the Wallet Card can be reprogrammed to emulate various cards at the push of a button, reducing the thickness of your wallet. But by using an E-Ink screen to show information like the cardholder’s name and account numbers, there’s no wait times when someone signs up for a new card. A plastic blank doesn’t have to be encoded, embossed, and mailed off to a new client. The Wallet Card can be instantly programmed with the required details using its cellular connection.

And the next time your credit card details have been compromised, which happens more often than it should, instead of having to wait a week for your bank to mail out a replacement card, the Wallet Card could be electronically programmed with a new number so you could continue to use it almost instantly. There’s even the potential for promotions to be delivered to your card, like a discount when your birthday rolls around. Or if you’re worried about blowing past your limit, the card could be updated to show your remaining credit card balance every time you make a purchase.

Alongside the announcement of the Wallet Card, Dynamics also made announcements about several international banks who plan to introduce these cards to clients in the coming year. But unfortunately, banks in the US continue to drag their feet on new technologies, despite the benefits to both client care and security. And even if one does decide to implement the Wallet Card, it will be years before you’ll be able to slip one in your wallet.

We’re in Las Vegas at CES 2018! Click here to read our complete coverage.

from Gizmodo

This AA Battery Sucks Power Right Out of the Air

After covering CES for 10 years, nothing I’ve seen at the show has me as excited about the future as Ossia’s wireless charging technology. The company’s developed a way to deliver power to your gadgets the same way internet is delivered by wi-fi, and one of the first real-world applications of the tech is a AA battery that may never need replacing.

We first had a demo of Ossia’a Cota wireless power technology at CES 2016 with an iPhone, wrapped in a special case, that was able to charge in mid-air thanks to a nearby wireless power transmitter that looked like a glowing blue trashcan.

A gross simplification of Ossia’s Cota over-the-air, line-of-sight charging technology, which is explained in more detail here, is that the transmitter broadcasts a directed and concentrated RF signal towards a given device in a room, which is absorbed by the gadget’s own RF antennas inside, and turned into usable power. If that device doesn’t have a Cota RF antenna inside it, as no gadgets on the market currently do, you’d need to use a bulky case on a smartphone, for example, to make it compatible with wireless power.

Unfortunately, when you look at how long it took a company like Apple to embrace and include induction charging on the latest iPhone, it’s going to be a long time before a technology like Ossia’s wireless power will be incorporated into devices by OEM manufacturers, freeing us all from charging cables.

But that’s where the Cota Forever Battery enters the picture. Featuring the exact same size, form factor, and power output of a traditional AA battery, it can be inserted into a battery-powered device to instantly and easily make it compatible with Cota wireless power transmitters. Imagine never have to change the batteries in your TV remotes ever again, or not having to stay on top of countless IOT devices in your home that are constantly demanding a charge.

Putting the Cota technology into a AA battery, which is technology even your grandparents’ grandparents are familiar with, is a clever way to help improve adoption of this tech. But the unfortunate reality is that it’s still going to be quite a few years before you’ll be able to upgrade your home, and all of your gadgets, with wireless power.

Since CES 2016, the Cota transmitters have been reduced in size to non-descript panels you can hide on the ceiling or on a wall, but Ossia doesn’t sell them to consumers yet. The early adopters of this technology will most likely be those with commercial applications in mind, like stores and factories, before you’ll see it showing up in homes. And device-makers aren’t going to even start considering incorporating wireless power technology until the transmitters are more ubiquitous. The Cota Forever Battery will undoubtedly help expedite the rollout of wireless power, but it’s still a long ways off.

The future just needs to hurry up and get here already.

We’re in Las Vegas at CES 2018! Click here to read our complete coverage.

from Gizmodo

Facebook Knows How to Track You Using the Dust on Your Camera Lens

Facebook has long said that it doesn’t use location data to make friend suggestions, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t thought about using it.

In 2014, Facebook filed a patent application for a technique that employs smartphone data to figure out if two people might know each other. The author, an engineering manager at Facebook named Ben Chen, wrote that it was not merely possible to detect that two smartphones were in the same place at the same time, but that by comparing the accelerometer and gyroscope readings of each phone, the data could identify when people were facing each other or walking together. That way, Facebook could suggest you friend the person you were talking to at a bar last night, and not all the other people there that you chose not to talk to.

Facebook says it hasn’t put this technique into practice.

“We’re not currently using location [for People You May Know],” said a Facebook spokesperson. Facebook has previously told us that it only used location for friend recommendations one time during a brief test in 2015. But several of its patents show it thinking about using location, also recommending users friend each other, for example, if they “check into the social network from the same location at around the same time.”

In the course of our year-long investigation into how the social network makes its uncannily accurate friend recommendations to users, Facebook has told us many things it doesn’t do, to ease fears about Facebook’s ability to spy on its users: It doesn’t use proxies for location, such as wi-fi networks or IP addresses. It doesn’t use profile views or face recognition or who you text with on WhatsApp. Most of Facebook’s uncanny guesswork is the result of a healthy percentage of users simply handing over their address books.

But that doesn’t mean Facebook hasn’t thought about employing users’ metadata more strategically to make connections between them. Patents filed by Facebook that mention People You May Know show some ingenious methods that Facebook has devised for figuring out that seeming strangers on the network might know each other. One filed in 2015 describes a technique that would connect two people through the camera metadata associated with the photos they uploaded. It might assume two people knew each other if the images they uploaded looked like they were titled in the same series of photos—IMG_4605739.jpg and IMG_4605742, for example—or if lens scratches or dust were detectable in the same spots on the photos, revealing the photos were taken by the same camera.

It would result in all the people you’ve sent photos to, who then uploaded them to Facebook, showing up in one another’s “People You May Know.” It’d be a great way to meet the other people who hired your wedding photographer.

“We’re also not analyzing images taken by the same camera to make recommendations in People You May Know,” said a Facebook spokesperson when asked about the patent. “We’ve often sought patents for technology we never implement, and patents should not be taken as an indication of future plans.”

The technological analysis in some of the patents is pretty astounding, but it could well be wishful thinking on Facebook’s part.

Vera Ranieri, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who focuses on intellectual property, hasn’t reviewed these specific patents but said generally that the U.S. Patent Office doesn’t ensure that a technology actually works before granting a patent.

“A lot of patents are filed at the idea stage rather than the actuality stage,” said Ranieri by phone. “A tech company that files a patent has, hopefully, at least thought about how to do it. You’d hope they could implement it if asked, but it doesn’t mean they have done so before.”

Since being born into the world in 2004, Facebook has filed for thousands of technology patents in order to lock down its intellectual property and, like many in the field, stifle competition. In a search of those patents, we found a dozen, filed from 2010 to 2016, that were directly relevant to People You May Know, or PYMK as it’s called internally. They include techniques that Facebook could use one day to make friend suggestions—or techniques it could sue someone else for using.

Taken in their breadth, they speak to the many sources of information Facebook could tap to learn more about us and our real-world social networks, thanks in large part to the sophisticated surveillance tools built by default into our smartphones, such as accelerometers, gyrometers, microphones, cameras, and endless, sprawling contact books.

The Facebook employees and contractors who authored the patents repeatedly explain why People You May Know is so crucial to the network: People with more friends use the network more and look at more ads. Without People You May Know, the $500 billion behemoth that is Facebook would be making less money. That may be why users aren’t allowed to opt out of the feature, even when it carries risks for them.

“For people with low friends counts—usually new to Facebook—we’ve heard that the suggestions we provide help them feel more engaged, and we’re going to continue to try to make these suggestions as relevant as possible,” said the Facebook spokesperson by email. “Concerning how People You May Know works; we prioritize suggestions based on mutual friends because having friends in common is a good signal that you may want to be friends with someone on Facebook.”

Facebook’s earliest People You May Know patent was filed in 2010, two years after Facebook launched the feature. In it, employees from Facebook explain why friend suggestions are important:

“Social networking systems value user connections because better connected users tend to use the social networking system more, thus increasing user engagement and providing a better user experience.”

In a patent filed two years later, employees on Facebook’s growth team explain why increased user engagement is so important. It leads to “a corresponding increase in, for example, advertising opportunities.”

In other words, People You May Know is crucial to Facebook’s bottom line. Thus, Facebook’s first PYMK patent was on the process of privileging friend recommendations for people who don’t have very many friends. Another filing patents the act of aggressively displaying “People You May Know” to people who don’t use Facebook very often.

Its second patent was for something Facebook doesn’t currently let you do: sort its friend suggestions to you and rank them by hometown or number of mutual friends or their interests. (If you’re interested in actually being able to do that, try our PYMK Inspector, which will let you sort your friend suggestions by mutual friends.)

One of its patents is for figuring out who your family members are and suggesting them as friends. It says it could figure this out based on “external feeds, third-party databases, etc.” However, when Facebook suggested I friend a relative I didn’t know I had, Facebook told me it doesn’t use information from third parties or data brokers for People You May Know.

While Facebook says it often seeks patents for technology it never implements, one thing Facebook is doing—and that it has filed multiple patents on since 2012 because it works so well—is building shadow profiles to connect users. Facebook collects all the contact information it can find for you from other users’ address books and then associates it with your account—though not in a place you can see or delete. It then uses that information to connect you with other users who have those contact deets for you. In patent speak, this is “Associating received contact information with user profiles stored by a social networking system.”

Here’s how Facebook describes the process of figuring out everyone you’ve ever met.

[U]ser profiles may include incomplete or outdated information, limiting the social networking system’s ability to identify other social networking system users for connecting to an importing user. To more accurately identify users, the social networking system stores contact entries received from an importing user and associates a stored contact entry with a user profile including information matching information in the contact entry. Subsequently received contact entries are compared to user profiles and stored contact entries associated with the user profile to identify matching information. If information in a user profile or in a stored contact entry associated with the user profile matches a received contact entry, a user associated with the user profile is identified for establishing a connection. Associating received contact entries with user profiles supplements user profiles with received content information, allowing identification of more potential connections to users and increasing user interaction with the social networking system.

And, of course, more user interaction means more opportunities to look at ads.

As Facebook continues to grow, through app acquisitions and claiming new demographics and countries as users, it will do its best to connect those new users to its existing billion-plus members. We can’t know when or if Facebook will ever actually scan digital photos for dust or tap into our phones’ gyrometers to more fully map the relationships between all the people in the world, but we now know, thanks to the U.S. Patent Office, that Facebook at least thinks these things are possible.

With that kind of thinking happening internally at Facebook, it’s hard not to start thinking of it more as a spy service than a social network. If these techniques were put into practice, it would be an incredibly invasive level of tracking in service of suggesting you connect with people that you may not actually want Facebook to know that you know.

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from Gizmodo