Twitter Sues the Government for Violating Its First Amendment Rights

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

Twitter just sued the federal government over restrictions the government places on how much the company can disclose about surveillance requests it receives.

For months, Twitter has tried to negotiate with the government to expand the kind of information that it and other companies are allowed to disclose. But it failed. Today, Twitter asserts in its suit that preventing the company from telling users how often the government submits national security requests for user data is a violation of the First Amendment.

The move goes a step beyond a challenge filed by Google and other companies last year that also sought permission on First Amendment grounds to disclose how often it receives national security requests for data. In the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks about government spying and the so-called PRISM program, the companies sought to add statistics about national security requests to transparency reports that some of them were already publishing. Up to that point, the reports had revealed only the number of general law enforcement requests for data that the companies received each year, not so-called National Security Letters the companies received for data or other national security requests submitted with a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court.

The companies asserted that without the ability to disclose more details about the data requests they received, the public was left to speculate wildly that they were providing unfettered access to user data or giving the government information in bulk. If the public knew how few requests for data they actually received, they argued, people would be re-assured that this was not the case.

“[G]overnment nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation,” Google’s Chief Legal Officer David Drummond wrote in a letter to the attorney general and FBI. “Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.”

Although the companies won a partial victory in negotiation when the government agreed earlier this year to let them publish broad statistics about national security requests they received, the statistics turned out to be nothing more than a coy tease. They provided no real transparency. The companies were only allowed to publish a range of the requests they received. For example, they were only allowed to disclose that they had received between 0 and 999 national security requests for data. They also had a six-month delay imposed on them, prohibiting them from disclosing certain sets of information, and a two-year delay for disclosing other sets of data.

In August, Google and Microsoft pressed for the right to release more statistics, including a breakdown of the number of requests specifically targeting user content, versus requests seeking metadata.

Twitter was engaged in its own battle for more transparency as well. Last April, the company submitted a draft of the kind of transparency report it sought to make public. The Justice Department responded in September that the proposed report contained classified information that could not be publicly released under the current FISA and National Security Letter laws, which come with a gag order preventing service providers from disclosing the data requests they receive.

In today’s filing (.pdf), Twitter notes that while the government is allowed to engage “in extensive but incomplete speech about the scope of its national security surveillance activities” as they pertain to data obtained from U.S. companies, those companies are prohibited “from providing their own informed perspective” on the matter.

That gag essentially forced Twitter to either engage only in speech pre approved by the government or to refrain from speaking altogether, a violation of the Constitution.

“Twitter’s ability to respond to government statements about national security surveillance activities and to discuss the actual surveillance of Twitter users is being unconstitutionally restricted by statutes that prohibit and even criminalize a service provider’s disclosure of the number of national security letters (“NSLs”) and court orders issued pursuant to FISA that it has received, if any.”

What’s more, Twitter claimed that the restrictions the government was imposing on the speech of companies was arbitrary, with no basis for the kinds of delayed disclosures it demanded from the firms.

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the legal challenge to the gag orders.

“If these laws prohibit Twitter from disclosing basic information about government surveillance, then these laws violate the First Amendment,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the ACLU, in a statement. “The Constitution doesn’t permit the government to impose so broad a prohibition on the publication of truthful speech about government conduct. We hope that other technology companies will now follow Twitter’s lead. Technology companies have an obligation to protect their customers’ sensitive information against overbroad government surveillance, and to be candid with their customers about how their information is being used and shared.”

Twitter’s constitutional challenge is in good company and may have been emboldened by a court decision in another case earlier this year. In that case, a U.S. District Judge ruled that so-called National Security Letters that come with an automatic gag order on the recipient are an unconstitutional impingement on free speech.

That ruling involves a challenge filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2011 on behalf of an unidentified ISP. The timing of the Twitter suit may not be coincidental. A federal appeals court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the EFF case in San Francisco tomorrow.

Facebook May Soon Launch an Anonymity App, But Is It Already Too Late?

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

Facebook is working on a standalone app that would allow users to communicate anonymously, similar to existing apps like Whisper and Secret, according to a new report. Such a product would be a drastic reversal in Facebook’s longstanding opposition to anonymity. But more than that, the app would also serve as yet another sign that Facebook has changed. Once a scrappy startup, it’s now quite a large company, constantly reacting to trends, instead of setting them.

According to The New York Times , people briefed on the new project say it has been underway for about a year and will be released in the coming weeks. Details on how exactly it will work, however, are still unclear, and a Facebook spokesman declined to comment the story.

The timing of rumor—which echoes a report from this past spring—is interesting. It comes fresh on the heels of a recent controversy around Facebook’s so-called “real names policy,” which has always required people to use their legal names on the site. Recently, that policy came under fire, after dozens of drag queens were locked out of the site for using pseudonyms, spurring a virtual revolt among members of the LGBT community, who said the policy violated their way of life and left them open to harassment. After weeks of controversy, Facebook not only apologized to the LGBT community, but also dialed back its stance on real names.

Now, it seems, the company is ready to tread even farther into the depths of the anonymous web. It’s a natural move for Facebook. Startups like Whisper, Secret, and Yik Yak have experienced explosive growth over the last year, meaning many of the conversations people are having online are happening off of the world’s largest social network. For Facebook, it makes sense to try to leverage its substantial scale to win that audience back.

But as with so many other giant tech companies, the question du jour for Facebook is: can scale ever really trump good timing?

Facebook seems to believe it can. Why else would it even think about launching another anonymity app now, when the space is already so crowded with successful competitors? It’s likely for the same reason Facebook created its own Snapchat lookalike years after the ephemeral messaging site launched. It’s because Facebook believes that with its unmatched existing user base, it can easily overtake the competition.

But the company would be wise to remember its own history. Facebook came along just as other social networks like Friendster and MySpace had fallen out of favor. Sure it had a few genius engineers on board, but more important, it had the right product—a network for college kids who didn’t feel they belonged on other crowded sites—at the right time. Nothing MySpace or Friendster could do could ever convince consumers they were anything but the lame and noisy networks they had always been. People flocked to Facebook in part because it wasn’t one of these older social networks masquerading as the new kid on the block. It was something entirely new.

It may also be tough for Facebook—a company that makes its billions selling user data—to convince users that their private conversations on the app are ever truly anonymous. Unlike its upstart competitors, Facebook’s reputation precedes it, and in this space, that can be both a blessing and a curse.

Samsung’s Endgame Looks Bleak Because Phones Don’t Matter Anymore

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge. Samsung

Samsung leads the world in smartphone market share, and at a time of ascendant mobile computing, that seems like a great place to be. So why does the future look so glum for the South Korean hardware giant?

On Tuesday, the world’s dominant smartphone maker said that its third-quarter profits would likely drop by about 60 percent and overall sales by more than 20 percent compared to the same time last year, blaming “intensified smartphone competition” for the decline.

The prediction comes just weeks after chief rival Apple released its own phablet-sized thumb-busters to compete with large-screen devices from Samsung. Strong sales of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus could be eating into Samsung’s revenues. But that’s not the only force at work here.

With the possible exception of radically improved battery life, hardware differences become about subtle preferences, not clear-cut metrics of superiority.

Before the new bigger iPhones were even announced, Samsung’s market share had fallen off considerably from the year before. During the second quarter of 2013, Samsung handsets accounted for more than 32 percent of smartphone sales, according to research firm IDC. By the same time this year, that figure had fallen below 25 percent. But the decline didn’t come only at the hands of Apple, which also saw sales fall off slightly. Instead, the rise of Huawei and other non-marquee brands suggests Samsung’s losses also came at the other end of the market, where budget phones lure buyers with the right mix of features and low price.

In other words, Samsung is being squeezed. And the problem is that it doesn’t have an obvious path out of its jam. As Apple keeps adapting to keep its design-centric lock on the high end—and feisty competitors on the low end keep finding ways to attract budget-conscious buyers–the end game for Samsung isn’t clear. And the problem, in the end, is Android, the Google mobile operating system that drives Samsung devices—and so many other devices across the market.

IDC: Smartphone Vendor Market Share 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011 Chart

The Mushy Middle

That’s not because Android itself is faulty, but because it doesn’t give Samsung a distinctive way to compete now that hardware has become commoditized. For starters, the screen-size contest is over. Apple hasn’t won, but both Android and iOS users now have the option to pick whatever screen size suits them. Without such an obvious differentiator, Samsung will have a much harder time trying to set itself apart on hardware alone. With the possible exception of radically improved battery life, hardware differences become about subtle preferences, not clear-cut metrics of superiority.

That leaves software. If smartphone makers can’t set themselves apart dramatically with their hardware, the key difference becomes the experience of using the phone. And that piece is ultimately out of Samsung’s control. By adopting Android rather than its own operating system, Samsung aligned itself with the most popular mobile OS on earth, a popularity for which Samsung also largely deserves credit. But that popularity also means users can make the jump to another company’s Android-based phones with ease. Samsung implicitly concedes that software will not be how it sets itself apart as it tries to recapture the competitive ground it’s losing to others.

“To secure sustainable mid- to long-term growth despite intensified competition,” the company says in its guidance, “Samsung is preparing new smartphone lineups featuring new materials and innovative designs, as well as a series of new mid- to low-end smartphones with strong competitive positioning on both hardware specifications and price.”

That is, Samsung is still hoping that the phones themselves will win out. But if Samsung can’t decisively compete with Apple on design at the high end, where the profits lay, or on volume at the low end, where Huawei, Xaiomi, Lenovo, and others are diluting Samsung’s command of the market, all that’s left is the mushy middle. It’s the place where you least want to be, but where it’s all too easy to get stuck.

Japan’s Deadly Ontake Volcano Seen From Space

Ontake volcano in Japan on Sept. 30, 2014.

Ontake volcano in Japan on Sept. 30, 2014. CNES 2014 – Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image

France’s Pleiades satellite captured this image of vapor, fumes and toxic gases escaping from Ontake volcano in Japan on Sept. 30, three days after the eruption that has killed more than 54 people. This is Japan’s deadliest eruption in over a century.

Despite the country’s robust volcano monitoring system, this eruption came with virtually no warning. Scientists suspect this is because it was a phreatic eruption caused by steam rather than magma. When magma moves beneath a volcano, it can be picked up by seismic monitoring networks. In a phreatic eruption, ground water is superheated rapidly by the heat from magma. Because steam takes up more volume than liquid water, if enough of it is heated quickly enough with no way to escape, it can blast apart the overlying rock, pulverizing it into ash.

Japan sits on the edge of two colliding tectonic plates. The Pacific plate is being forced beneath other plates all along its border, which is known as the Ring of Fire. The ongoing collision generates earthquakes, such as the 2004 Sumatra quake that caused an Indian ocean tsunami and killed more than 200,000 people. As the Pacific plate is pushed into the Earth’s mantle, surface water and hydrated minerals heat up which in turn melts the mantle and generates the magma that causes volcanic eruptions. Japan has more than 100 active volcanoes.

The image below, captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite shows Ontake the day it erupted.

Japan's Ontake volcano erupts on Sept. 27, 2014. This image was captured by NASA's Aqua satellite.

Japan’s Ontake volcano erupts on Sept. 27, 2014. This image was captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite. NASA Earth Observatory

Facebook Extends Ad Targeting Talents (Yet Again)

Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired

Facebook is extending the reach of its ad-targeting talents—again.

On Tuesday, the social networking giant invited all mobile app developers and publishers onto the Facebook Audience Network, a mobile advertising network that extends beyond Facebook itself and onto third-party mobile apps. Facebook began testing the network in January, and now, according to Facebook product manager Sriram Krishnan, who oversees the company’s mobile advertising efforts, the network is “broadly available.” That means any developer or publisher can sign up to display the network’s ads inside their apps—and take a cut of the revenue.

Facebook’s pitch is that this revenue will be higher than what developers and publishers could get from other mobile ad networks, because the Facebook network lets advertisers target users on mobile apps in much the same way they target users on Facebook proper. Advertisers, you see, will pay a premium for such targeting. As it seeks to grab an even larger share of the $140 billion digital advertising market, this is where Facebook has an advantage over the likes of Google and other smaller players. Because Facebook holds so much personal data about its users, it can more closely match ads to particular types of people—based on things like age and gender and online habits—and that means it can charge more for those ads.

The Audience Network is just one way that Facebook is expanding this sort of ad targeting beyond its own social network. Last week, the company unveiled Atlas, a separate tool that allows companies to grab ads from all sorts of sources and serve them across all sorts of sites and services, and it too can target ads based on Facebook data.

With the Audience Network, Sriram Krishnan explains, Facebook targets users via a mobile device identifier—a software token that’s specific to a particular phone or tablet. This lets the company identify users as they move from app to app, and that means it can serve them ads just as it would on Facebook itself. And in some cases, it can bring in higher ad revenues—both for itself and for the developers and publishers displaying the ads.

Chris Akhavan, president of publishing at Glu Mobile, a company that has tested the Facebook Audience network inside its mobile game apps, tells WIRED that, at least in some instances, ad revenue is two times higher on the network than on competing mobile ad networks. “In some cases, they have doubled the performance we’ve seen on a per impression basis in terms of revenue generated,” he says. And, he tell us, it isn’t hard to see why. Glu has also tapped into the other side of Facebook’s ad equation, using the social network to target its own ads for its own apps, and as Akhavan explains, no other ad network—and Glu uses about 50 of them—let it so closely match ads with consumers.

Feds ‘Hacked’ Silk Road Without A Warrant? Perfectly Legal, Prosecutors Argue

Ross Ulbricht.

Ross Ulbricht. Courtesy Ulbricht family

With only a month until the scheduled trial of Ross Ulbricht, the alleged creator of the Silk Road drug site, Ulbricht’s defense lawyers have zeroed in on the argument that the U.S. government illegally hacked the billion-dollar black market site to expose the location of its hidden server. The prosecution’s latest rebuttal to that argument takes an unexpected tack: they claim that even if the FBI did hack the Silk Road without a warrant—and prosecutors are careful not to admit they did—that intrusion would be a perfectly law-abiding act of criminal investigation.

On Monday evening the prosecutors submitted the latest in a series of combative court filings from the two sides of the Silk Road case that have clashed over Ulbricht’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy. The government’s new argument responds to an affidavit from an expert witness, tech lawyer Joshua Horowitz, brought in by Ulbricht’s defense to poke holes in the FBI’s story of how it located the Silk Road server. In a letter filed last week, Horowitz called out inconsistencies in the FBI’s account of stumbling across the Silk Road’s IP address while innocently entering “miscellaneous data” into its login page. He testified that the FBI’s actions instead sounded more like common hacker intrusion techniques. Ulbricht’s defense has called for an evidentiary hearing to cross examine the FBI about the operation.

In the government’s rebuttal, however, Ulbricht’s prosecutors don’t directly contest Horowitz’ description of the FBI’s investigation, though they do criticize his testimony in passing as “factually and analytically flawed in a number of respects.” Instead, they obliquely argue that the foreign location of the site’s server and its reputation as a criminal haven mean that Ulbricht’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches don’t apply, even if the FBI did use hacking techniques to penetrate the Silk Road, and did so without a warrant.

“Even if the FBI had somehow ‘hacked’ into the [Silk Road] Server in order to identify its IP address, such an investigative measure would not have run afoul of the Fourth Amendment,” the prosecutors’ new memo reads. “Given that the SR Server was hosting a blatantly criminal website, it would have been reasonable for the FBI to ‘hack’ into it in order to search it, as any such ‘hack’ would simply have constituted a search of foreign property known to contain criminal evidence, for which a warrant was not necessary.”

The Silk Road server in question, after all, was located not in the United States but in a data center near Reykjavik, Iceland. And though Ulbricht is an American citizen, the prosecutors argue that the server’s location abroad made it fair game for remote intrusion. “Because the SR Server was located outside the United States, the Fourth Amendment would not have required a warrant to search the server, whether for its IP address or otherwise,” the prosecution’s filing reads.

In a footnote, the memo adds another strike against Ulbricht’s Fourth Amendment protections: The Silk Road was not only hosted in a foreign data center, but also rented from a third-party web hosting service. And because Ulbricht allegedly violated the company’s terms of service by using its computers to deal in narcotics and other contraband, that company was exempted from any obligation to protect his privacy.

Finally, prosecutors argue that for the 30-year-old Texan to claim privacy protections for Silk Road’s server, he would have to declare that it belonged to him. That’s a tricky Catch-22: Ulbricht hasn’t claimed personal possession of that computer’s data, as doing so would almost certainly incriminate him. But because he hasn’t he can’t claim that his privacy was violated when it was searched, according to the prosecutor’s reasoning. “Because Ulbricht has not submitted any affidavit alleging that he had any possessory interest in the SR Server—let alone one that would give him a reasonable expectation of privacy—his motion should be denied,” reads the prosecutors’ filing.

Early Tuesday, Judge Katherine Forrest ordered Ulbricht’s defense to decide within the day whether it will argue that Ulbricht did have an expectation of privacy for the Silk Road server, as well as all his other seized computers and online accounts. She’s given him until the end of the day Wednesday to make that argument Ulbricht’s defense didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The pre-trial motion over which Ulbricht’s defense lawyers and the prosecution have been sparring for the last two months doesn’t directly seek to have the central narcotics conspiracy and money laundering charges against Ulbricht dismissed. Instead, his lawyers have sought to prove that the evidence gathered by law enforcement is tainted. If the initial pinpointing of Silk Road’s server was illegal, they argue, practically all the evidence from the resulting investigation could be rendered inadmissible.

Early last month, the government responded to that motion with an affidavit from former FBI agent Christopher Tarbell describing how the Silk Road server was first found. As he described it, a misconfiguration of the anonymity software Tor allowed the site’s login page to leak its IP address.

But the technical experts in the security and privacy community immediately expressed deep skepticism of that account. And last week Ulbricht’s defense responded with a list of inconsistencies in Tarbell’s affidavit, as well as new accusations that the FBI had violated the hacking law known as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. (CFAA) Ulbricht’s attorneys compared the FBI’s actions to those of Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, who was convicted in 2012 of conspiracy to violate the CFAA when he and a friend collected more than a hundred thousand iPad users’ email addresses from an insecure AT&T website.

While the prosecution’s latest filing doesn’t dwell on the facts of Tarbell’s story, it does point out that the CFAA hacking law has an exemption for law enforcement. It also takes issue with the defense’s definition of “hacking.” In the defense’s Auernheimer example, the government argues, the hacker in question “impersonated” AT&T users to gain access to “non-public” information. (Nevermind that the email addresses in Auernheimer’s case were visible to anyone who typed a specific URL into his or her browser.) The FBI’s Tarbell, by contrast, only accessed “public” data on the Silk Road, the prosecution contends.

“The Tarbell Declaration does not describe any such impersonation of Silk Road users to gain access to their information on the SR Server,” reads the prosecution’s letter. “It describes former Agent Tarbell’s close examination of traffic data received from the Silk Road website when he used a part of it that was fully accessible to the public at large—the login interface—and received error messages that were accessible to any user who entered erroneous login information.

Regardless of whether the government calls it “hacking” or a mere warrantless “search,” however, prosecutors’ arguments against Ulbricht’s Fourth Amendment protections aren’t particularly convincing, says Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. In the case of the prosecution’s argument that Ulbricht would need to declare his ownership of the Silk Road server to claim any right to the privacy of its data, she points out that Ulbricht could also claim a right to privacy as a mere user of the site.

“He doesn’t have to own the server,” she says. “Even if he’s just communicating on that server, he already has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

As for the government’s argument that any foreign server containing an American’s data can be searched without a warrant, Granick says that notion remains legally unproven at best. “This is not an obvious or open-shut argument at all…Overseas searches that target Americans still have to be reasonable,” she argues. “If the target is a US person and it’s a US agent looking for information, the Fourth Amendment still applies.”

Whether Judge Forrest, who’s presiding over Ulbricht’s case, takes a similar view will only become clear in the coming weeks. But Granick contends that the defense has at least shown that it deserves the evidentiary hearing it’s requested, with an opportunity to cross-examine the FBI about its methods. “I don’t think this is a strong legal argument,” she says of the prosecution’s filing. “I do think that the defendant has alleged sufficiently that his communications flowing over this system are protected by the Fourth Amendment, such that the government should have to explain why their investigation didn’t cross that line.”

Read the full filing from the prosecutors below.

Prosecution Response to Horowitz Declaration

The Next Big Thing You Missed: Supercharging Video Conferences for the Smartphone Age



Googlers call it “the VC” link.

Inside Google offices across the globe, company engineers and other employees communicate with distant colleagues via a multimillion-dollar video-conferencing system developed by the tech giant itself. At company headquarters in Mountain View, California, some engineers keep a VC link open all day long, chatting with colleagues in places like New York and Kirkland, Washington as they all collaborate on common projects.

Shan Sinha worked at Google for about two years, overseeing product management for the company’s suite of online office applications, Google Apps, and he saw how useful the VC link could be. “There was a pretty magical transformation at Google,” says Sinha, a veteran of Microsoft and the startup world. “My teams communicated differently than at any other company I’ve ever worked at.” So, in 2012, he left Google and founded a startup, Highfive, which seeks to bring this sort of video conferencing to the rest of the world, including the smallest of businesses.

Shan Sinha.

Shan Sinha. Highfive

It so happens that Google is now trying to do much the same thing, selling a video conferencing device called Chromebox for Meetings, and yes, video conferencing tools are already available from a wide range of other outfits, including everything from the rather expensive conference-room hardware offered by the likes of Cisco and Polycom to internet services that run on ordinary PCs via a web browser. But Sinha and Highfive aim for something different: a high-definition system for conference rooms that’s much cheaper—and much easier to use—than gear from the Ciscos and the Polycoms.

On Tuesday, the startup unveiled its first product—a slim, $799 device that brings video to the conference room through flat-panel displays, but also lets you instantly move video feeds from such displays onto handheld devices, including iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. In this way, Highfive seeks to marry the convenience of a smartphone video-chat app with the more inclusive—and higher fidelity—experience of a dedicated conference-room video system, all while charging a price that small businesses can afford.

This aluminum-encased device includes an HD camera and a noise-canceling mic array. You mount it on the wall, plug it into a flat-panel display, and connect it to the internet, so it can tie into an online video conferencing service built and operated by Highfive. To navigate the service, you then install an app on your mobile phone.

In short, you use the app to create an online meeting and send invitations to others—as you would with a tool like WebEx/a>. When they open the invite, a video feed from your phone appears on theirs. But if any of you are in a conference room equipped with a Highfive device, the app will recognize this and let you instantly transfer the video to the flat-panel on the wall.

You can do this merely by swiping your finger across the smartphone app, and in much the same way, you can transfer the video feed back to your phone, as need be. When its not housing the video conference, the phone serves as a remote control for what’s being shown on the flat-panel. You can use also it to serve up PowerPoint presentations alongside video feeds.



Phil Karcher, an analyst with the Massachusetts-based research outfit Forrester, who closely follows the video conferencing market, calls the Highfive setup “quite unique,” because you can plug it in and get it up and running so quickly, but also because it lets you transfer feeds so rapidly from device to device. For Doug Bohaboy—who has used an early version of the device as part of a trial at the online file-sharing company Memeo—the device-to-device thing is particularly interesting. “You can move meetings around,” he says. “With recent acquisitions and new team members, we can, at the end of a meeting, show them our corporate office. I can just move the meeting onto my phone and take a stroll around the office so they can see what it looks like.”

Bohaboy says that the every versions of the tool would occasionally drop video feeds—”there were hiccups,” he says—but these problems were fixed with subsequent versions of the hardware, and he believes that the technology can indeed provide an on-ramp to video conferencing for small businesses. Karcher agrees. Only about 5 percent of the country’s conference rooms include video conferencing technology, he says, and Highfive can help change that.

Angry Nerd: Will the New Star Wars Rebels Series Fall to the Dark Side?

Star Wars Rebels is Disney’s latest foray into the Star Wars universe, but will this animated installment use the power of the Force for good, or take us on a trip to the dark side? Angry Nerd takes a look at the history of animated Star Wars installments so far to uncover what worked—and what was a steaming pile of Sith.

It’s Space-Age Beats and Hip-Hop Supergroups in This Week’s Playlist


Warp Records

Things are going to start looking a little different around here, people. Or, at the very least, they’re going to start sounding different. Well, maybe the most accurate way to say it is that the stuff you listen to will look different. That’s because we’re shifting from embedded YouTube playlists to SoundCloud. No knock on YouTube, it’s just that we’ve found SoundCloud to be a cleaner interface and a better discovery engine. And sure, while that might sometimes mean you miss out on a new Charli XCX single or a bluesy standout from Lucinda Williams’ new record, it’ll be better for your ears in the long run. Besides, there’s plenty to feast on this week, from Flying Lotus’ new full-length You’re Dead! to the long-awaited MF Doom x Bishop Nehru team-up NehruvianDOOM; plus, new Mogwai, new Caribou, even the A$AP Rocky track that shut down the internet late last week. Welcome to the ’Cloud—we think you’ll like it here.

As usual, we’ve added the tracks to our ongoing Spotify playlist of great new music, and created a standalone playlist (below). Keep the recommendations coming.

The Tracks:

Communions, “So Long Sun”

Weezer, “Back to the Shack”

Alunageorge, “Supernatural”

Flying Lotus, “Coronus, The Terminator”

BC Kingdom, “Colours”

NehruvianDOOM, “Disastrous”

ASAP Rocky “Multiply”

Caribou, “Our Love”

Sui Zhen, “Infinity Street”

Mogwai, “Teenage Exorcists”

Mercedes Is Making a Self-Driving Semi to Change the Future of Shipping

The latest truck concept from Mercedes-Benz doesn’t look like anything crazy. Its design is a bit unusual, and it’s loaded up with LEDs instead of headlights and cameras instead of side mirrors. But those modest tweaks to conventional design hide the fact that this is a serious bid to revolutionize the trucking industry. That’s because the “Future Truck 2025″ drives itself. And while it’s a prototype, Mercedes is serious about spending the next decade getting it—and us—ready for commercial use.

Autonomous driving is nothing new for trucks in agricultural and military applications, and should be available for passenger cars by 2020. But trucks that share our highways are tempting candidates for shedding their human component: Highway driving is easy for computers but dangerous for us, especially when big machines are involved. In 2012, according to NHTSA, 333,000 large trucks were in crashes in the US. Those accidents killed nearly 4,000 people, the vast majority of whom were riding in passenger vehicles. Regulators have trouble ensuring that drivers get adequate rest, and the trucking industry has fought back against regulation.

Enter the Future Truck, equipped with the “Highway Pilot” automated system. “It never gets tired. It’s always 100 percent and sharp. It’s never angry; it’s never distracted,” says Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, the Daimler board member for trucks and buses. “So this is a much safer system.”

The trailer of the truck is designed to reduce fuel use by up to five percent.

The trailer of the truck is designed to reduce fuel use by up to five percent. Daimler AG

For an autonomous system, highway driving is far easier than navigating cities. There are no cyclists or pedestrians to watch out for, speeds are steady, and turns are minimal. The “Highway Pilot” system combines several established technologies that will maintain lane position and following distance using cameras and radar. The sensors have been fitted to provide full coverage of the truck’s surroundings, and the assistance systems are linked.

The big addition vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology connecting the truck to other cars on the road, providing their exact locations and speeds. The truck doesn’t need this data to drive autonomously, but it’s helpful for things like moving aside for emergency vehicles or detecting stopped vehicles up ahead.

In the Future Truck, which Mercedes unveiled at a commercial vehicle conference last month, the driver becomes a “transport manager.” He gets the truck onto the highway and merges into traffic. At 50 mph, he’s prompted to activate the “Highway Pilot” and relax. He can pivot his seat 45 degrees away from the wheel, and doesn’t even need to check Google Maps, since the truck has a navigation system to independently find the best route. If the truck approaches construction, or it’s time to get off the highway, it flashes a visual alert to tell the driver to get his hands back on the wheel. If he doesn’t comply (maybe he’s asleep?), the truck sounds an alarm, and if necessary can bring itself to “a controlled emergency stop.”

By far the swankiest truck cab---and driver (who wears wingtips to haul a semi?)--- we've ever seen.

By far the swankiest truck cab we’ve ever seen. Daimler AG

The Future Truck is less striking than the Walmart WAVE, an aerodynamically-focused concept that resembles a smushed Corvette, but it’s still a bit unusual. It uses an aerodynamic trailer Mercedes showed off in 2012, designed to limit wind resistance and cut fuel consumption by as much as five percent. The cab is all smooth lines and just a bit reminiscent of nose-free Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter movies.

LED lights go from white to blue when the truck’s driving itself, and replace the headlights. Mercedes dumped side mirrors for cameras to boost aerodynamics. These changes will likely be abandoned as the truck moves from concept to production vehicle and has to conform the regulations that strictly govern things like mirrors and lights. Then again, Mercedes will require some rule changes to get this thing on the road at all, so maybe it can swing a couple of exemptions.

Sadly for current Mercedes truck drivers who want to finally finish reading the Game of Thrones books, Future Truck 2025 is just a prototype, and won’t be ready for market for at least a decade (thus the unimaginative name). While the technology to allow autonomous driving is basically in place, Mercedes has to sort out questions like how to ensure data from the vehicles is secure, how liability will work in the event of an (inevitable) crash, and if rules regulating how much rest truck drivers get will still apply.

“The challenge now,” Bernhard says, “is to leverage this momentum and to continue our open dialogue with all parties involved, so that in ten years’ time the autonomously driving truck will indeed have become an accepted feature on our roads.”